Our brains love stories and hate Power Point slides with font size 6

Let’s admit it, stories make sense to us. Long before we could outsource our memories to iPhones and computers, stories were the primary means to pass on information to the next generations. Until this day, it serves our very human need to belong and connect to the world around us. No wonder it is also a hot topic in the business world.

We highlight the importance of talking with “weekend language”, creating “hero journeys” and starting with “imagine this…”. Being in a constant hurry we tend to stay on a superficial level: digesting quick-and-dirty techniques on how to become storytelling superstars. Just like reading self-help books on how to achieve happiness and success. However, this is not how it works.

Instead of diving into an yet another quick-fix toolkit, we wanted to sit down and really dig deeper into WHY storytelling actually matters.

The brain behind the story

Yes, it all comes down to science. Let’s start from where the real magic happens: our brain. Neuroscientist David Eagleman writes in his fascinating book “The Brain: The Story of You” (2015) on how we are highly affected by the fact that we are social creatures. When reading the book we had two ‘AHA!’ moments:

  1. We have this great ability to link intentions even to unhuman characters. If you look up Fritz Heider’s and Marianne Simmel’s video in the “Experimental Study of Apparent Behavior” from 1944, you will see how easily we start interpreting and creating stories and intentions to objectives that we see. In other words, our brains are hardwired for social interaction. We create stories and apply social intention to everything we observe!
  2. We have amazing empathy skills that make stories come to life. When watching Lion King (or any other touching movie) we all cry like babies, why is that? According to Eagleman we naturally immerse ourselves to the stories and simulate convincingly how each scenarios would feel. This is called empathy. Eagleman states that empathy has been useful for us from an evolutionary perspective: by understanding what other people feel we may get tips on what they are about to do next.

Ok, so we are emotional creatures that link intentions and create stories about the stuff we observe. How does this have anything to do with the logic-driven business world?

Our decisions are driven by emotions

If you aim to impact decision-making and connect emotionally, forget the slides. According to Gabrielle Dolan, writer of Stories for Work (2017), we first make up our minds based on our emotions and then use logic to justify our choices. Dolan quotes a neuroscience expert Christine Comaford (writer of book called smart tribes):

“90% of human behaviour and decision-making is driven by our emotions.”

There is actual chemistry behind this all. According to neuroeconomist Paul Zaks’ (2014) research, character-driven stories cause brains to produce oxytocin (also referred to as the “love hormone”). This hormone is further known to motivate cooperation with others by enhancing a sense of empathy. In fact, stories (not so much logic) have the power to move and motivate us, change attitudes and capture people’s hearts. This blows the standard Power Point presentation to bits. Feels scary, huh?

But no worries, we got your back! We will discuss in our next blog what storytelling really means, how you can shift your thinking and start leveraging the power of stories in your work.