The Science of Storytelling: Why We Love Stories

Everyone loves a good story.

Joshua VanDeBrake
The Startup
Published in
5 min readSep 27, 2018


You have likely heard that storytelling is important for business, marketing, and for life in general. Likely, you’ve heard that it’s a powerful tool and that it has a potential for massive lasting impact.

I am going to show you the science behind why we love stories so much, what gives them their unique power, and how you can capitalize on it almost immediately.

“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” — Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

There is a scientific explanation for our love of stories: when we hear a story that resonates with us, our levels of a hormone called oxytocin increase.

Oxytocin is a “feel good” hormone.

It boosts our feelings of things like trust, compassion, and empathy. It motivates us to work with others and positively influences our social behavior.

Because of this, stories have a unique ability to build connections. Great brands know this and tap into its power to build a base of engaged fans.

Looking even deeper

When we hear facts, it activates the data processing centers in our brains, but when we hear stories, it activates the sensory centers in our brains.

A group of neuroscientists at Princeton University studied this:

“In agreement with previous work, the story evoked highly reliable activity in many brain areas across all listeners.”

“Communication is a shared activity resulting in a transfer of information across brains. The findings shown here indicate that during successful communication, speakers’ and listeners’ brains exhibit joint, temporally coupled, response patterns.”

The speakers’ and listeners’ brains exhibited joint, temporally coupled, response patterns. Let’s break that down a little…

These neuroscientists found that when listening to a well-told story, the exact same areas of the brain light up on an MRI in both the storyteller and listener. Your brain, as the listener, mirrors the brain of the storyteller.

In other words, when you hear a well-told story, your brain reacts as if you are experiencing it yourself.

Your brain places you inside the story.

Take a look at any Disney movie.

Remember in The Lion King, when Scar forces Mufasa off the cliff into the sea of trampling wildebeests? And believing it was his fault, Simba exiles himself out of shame!

How about the whole first 10 minutes of Up? Or literally any scene from The Fox and the Hound.

Humans are empathic creatures. And as such, we respond to stories because they cultivate emotion and a sense of togetherness — a connection.

The simple personifying and humanizing of a cartoon character creates a connection with the audience. It causes the release of oxytocin and makes the audience place themselves into that character’s story, connecting on a deeper level.

Stories make us feel like part of something bigger than ourselves.

Storytelling + Marketing

You can use this effect to supercharge your marketing efforts by creating more engaging content through storytelling, rather than simply stating the features and benefits of a product or a service.

There are two main ways that any company or individual can begin taking advantage of this immediately:

  1. Your “about” page
  2. Case studies

1. “About”

For most businesses, the about page is one of their website’s most visited pages — second only to their home page. The most common reason for this is that people want to learn about your company; they want to read your story.

Give the people what they came for. Write a narrative of your company’s history:

  • Include when and why your company started.
  • Talk about the founder’s vision when the company was just started.
  • Explain the evolution of the company from its inception to present state.
  • Write what the company’s ultimate goal is and the values the company lives by.
  • As an added bonus: include photos of the team — humans are very visual creatures and we like to see people.

This will serve as a framework for bringing storytelling into your company’s about page. Use this to bridge the connection between what your company does and what matters to your reader. Really focus on the founder’s vision and the core values that drive the company.

2. Case Studies

Case studies are an amazing way to bring in an ongoing supply of stories directly from your clients. They also give you an opportunity to brag about the results you’ve helped them achieve.

The best way to write a case study is to create a connection between your readers and the customer whose problem you helped solve:

  • Rule #1: make your customer the hero of the story.
  • Introduce them to your audience: tell your customer’s story and what problems their business solves.
  • If they are a leader in their respective market, make sure to acknowledge that.
  • If you can, give the name of the decision makers you worked with at that company. Include that person’s picture if you can. Putting a name and face together with a company fast-tracks the creation of a connection. Important note: make sure to get express permission for this beforehand.

Once you’ve established the connection, only then should you introduce the problem that you helped solve.

Take your sweet time establishing a connection and telling your customer’s story. The stronger the connection you build here, the more engaged your audience will be.

Describe the scene, show the results, and tell the story.

The key is to bring out your story in a way that draws people in.

That is how you engage your customers and become a storytelling brand.

Because science says: people engage with a well-told story. We are biologically and neurologically wired to connect with stories.


Everyone loves a good story.

Thank you for reading! 👏

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Joshua VanDeBrake
The Startup

Passionate about Marketing, Startups, & VC. Full-Stack Marketer. Ambivert. Millennial.