Tell Me a Story, Part 1: The Science of Storytelling

From the time we are very young, we beg to “hear that story one more time.” Who didn’t enjoy The Very Hungry Caterpillar, even if we’d heard it for the 4000th time?

As it turns out, we weren’t just delaying bedtime, our brains were performing complex actions as we listened to the familiar words. Sure, stories take us to explore unknown worlds, but there’s more to storytelling than just escapism. Stories move listeners.

Stories capture attention physiologically

Scientists have found that not only do stories activate the part of the brain that processes language but also those parts that process emotion. And as the story progresses, the brain waves of the listener and storyteller start to resemble one another. Listeners’ brains are mimicking that of the storyteller in order to fully capture the message.

Stories change behavior

Data and statistics can be convincing, but scientists have found that patients are more likely to change their behavior when they can identify with a character who has made the same choice. More than a recommendation or an admonition, stories put context around a situation and make it personally relevant.

When we think about the power of stories to evoke emotion and marry that to a behavior shift, the application to the business world is obvious: storytelling presents a compelling way not only to align employees with organizational goals and purpose but also to move them productively in that direction.

Stay tuned for more posts in the Storytelling series, from what to when to how.