The Science of Storytelling, Part 1

In our modern digital age, people are inundated with advertising. It’s everywhere. You see ads on websites, television, radio, magazines, and even apps. It’s hard to stand out when you’re doing the exact same thing as everyone else.

Science has proven that marketers must use storytelling as part of their content marketing programs. As humans, we are hardwired to remember stories, not facts. Even more important is the capability of good storytellers to project emotional experiences back onto their brand.

Yet, there’s still the question . . . what makes storytelling so effective?

The Brain and Storytelling

The brain is a very complex organ that researchers continue to study. It’s made up of numerous structures, each of which control different conscious and unconscious facets of your life.

Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas of the brain are responsible for understanding language, body language, and ambiguous words. During a powerpoint presentation, for instance, these areas of your brain are activated. You begin to translate words and gestures, but that’s about it.

When you’re being told a story, things change dramatically. When you’re hearing a story, not only do the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas become active, but the areas of the brain responsible for the actions and experiences of the story become active as well. Your brain acts as if you were actually living the events of the story.

Dr. Veronique Boulenger, a scientist at the University of Lyon in France, studied this exact phenomenon. She found that sentences containing action caused activity in the area of the brain responsible for movement. For instance, when participants read “John high-fived Adam”, their brain acted like it had actually occurred.

A story can put your entire brain to work.

Yet, it gets better. When we tell stories that have really helped us shape our thinking and way of life to others, we can have the same effect on our listeners. The brains of the person telling a story and those listening can synchronize.

Dr. Uri Hasson of Princeton found that when a woman told a group of volunteers a story, their brains synchronized. Then, when the woman had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too. When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs.

By telling a story, they found they were able to plant thoughts and emotions into the listeners’ brains.

Scientists have found that the brain does not make much of a distinction between reading or hearing a story and experiencing it in real life. For your brand to influence and engage your audience, you need to understand and utilize the power of storytelling.

The bottom line is humans are hard wired to understand stories.

Over the next few days, we are going to be taking an in-depth look at the art of storytelling. Tomorrow, we’ll continue to look at the how science is proving storytelling to be a powerful force. Later in the week, we will look at how storytelling is being used in advertising and a few examples you can look to for guidance with your storytelling endeavors.

In case you’re looking for the next two posts in the series, you can find those here and here.

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