Storytelling Impacts the Brain
For at least 30,000 years, from what we know from cave writing and paintings, stories are the most effective way of communicating. Today neuroscience explains why this is the case from the knowledge of how the brain works.
Can we infer how storytelling impacts the brain and how to use it to tell stories that engage readers in marketing?
The answer is definitely yes. Storytelling impacts the brain because it is still a narrated story, only in a digital medium.
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What is Storytelling?
We could summarize that storytelling is the art of telling a story that connects directly with people’s emotional aspect.
Storytelling has always been a widely used resource in traditional marketing, adapted perfectly to the Internet world. Currently, the objectives are the same, only the medium changes.
The concept of storytelling goes hand in hand with another important marketing concept: the engagement or commitment of the target audience. Good storytelling creates greater engagement, translated as greater interest and loyalty to the brand.
It is How our Brain Works
When we read something, for example, the ingredients of a recipe, two areas are activated in our brain, Wernicke’s and Broca’s, connected and related to understanding and processing language. That’s it. No other area of the brain is specially activated in that specific process.
However, if someone later tells us the “story” of how her grandmother made that recipe, she tells us about the exquisite aroma and flavours added to the smell of wood from the country house on a green hill … changes everything? What happened to yourself when reading this very short story?
The answer is that many more areas of the brain have been activated. We can say that the areas of language compression and processing have been involved and the sense of smell, sight, taste, and even motor areas if you have seen yourself walking down the green hill.
In short, storytelling impacts the brain, setting everything in motion. Therefore there will be greater remembrance, as Maya Angelou says:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Question of “Wiring” of the Brain
Why does the format of a story, with its sequences of events, facilitate learning and recall so much?
The answer is that this happens because we are so “designed”. Our brain is “wired” for short sequences of cause and effect. It is estimated that around 70% of our thoughts are in a narrative format, whatever we think.
Our brain, as it receives information, tries to relate it to existing experiences. In this case, a part of the brain called the cerebral insula is activated, which seeks these similar past experiences to feel emotions, joy, disgust.
In other words, we link metaphors and events automatically. Our brain is looking for the cause-effect relationship from something that we have previously experienced.
We have seen how the brain works with narrative and how storytelling impacts the brain concerning its structure and neural circuits. However, there are other, no less important factors that have to do with the brain’s chemical processes.
It is the case of oxytocin. Experiments show that this hormone, called by some the “love hormone”, acts on empathy. Empathy is essential in the narrative process because it makes us feel part and even protagonists of a story.
But it is not the only chemical response of the brain. Cortisol also comes into play in stress, serotonin, and dopamine, which generates pleasure. That is a chemical cocktail that remain activated when storytelling hits the brain.
Tips for Practical Application
You can draw many conclusions and ideas for storytelling, but here are five fundamentals that should never be missing.
1. Tell Emotional Stories
If you want to be much more persuasive in a conference, an article or wherever you interact, tell your own or other people’s stories and above all, do it with all possible emotional ingredients. In this way, you synchronize the minds of others with yours and your ideas.
It’s about getting the other to make your story theirs. A persuasive narrative will make the other mention your account as if it were your own.
3. Simple is Better
The complex and detailed is not better. On the contrary, our brain better grasps and remembers what is simple, plain and sincere.
Using simple language and low complexity is the best way to activate brain sections that truly relate to the situation and events in the story.
4. Don’t use Common Places
The brain practically does not react to well-known, widely used terms. Instead, It is always attentive to what is new and different. It is a question of economy and survival. What is familiar to you no longer represents danger, whereas what is new can represent a threat. For this reason, it reacts quickly to these stimuli.
5. Target your Audience
The story must remain directed specifically to the type of audience you want to impact. If you tell a story that is alien to the audience’s interests or feelings, it is difficult for you to gain their attention. If there is no attention, everything else will not work.
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