The average American consumes more than 100,000 digital words every day and 92% of those consumers want to experience those words in the form of a story. And I’m not talking about the Brothers Grimm kind of tales; I’m talking about storytelling marketing.
Storytelling helps brands engage with their audience, sell their products without really selling and create a lasting impression in the minds of their customers. But how does storytelling really work? How does it affect our brain? This is the science of storytelling.
A story activates parts in the brain that allow the listener to turn the story they’re hearing into their own ideas and experiences. This process is called neural coupling. It’s kind of a fancy term, but what it basically means is that if we hear a story, we make it our own. We add to it, alter it, develop it, customize and personalize it, until it almost becomes our very own story.
Although we twist and turn the story a bit, we never completely change it. Through the process of what’s called ‘mirroring’, our brains get to experience a similar brain activity as the storyteller. We get to share their experience – their story.
When we process facts, only two areas of the brain become activated: the Broca’s and Wernicke’s area. But a well-told story can engage many more areas in our brain, like the motor cortex, the sensory cortex, and frontal cortex. So while it takes a bit more effort for our brains to process a story than a fact, it also means that our brains get to engage with it more!
This is perhaps the most interesting part of the science of storytelling: dopamine. Dopamine is a little substance that’s released by our brain when it experiences an emotionally charged event. Dopamine allows us to remember our experience better and with greater accuracy. While a great story will be remembered for a long time, a boring fact will easily be forgotten. Stories stick.
More than science
In the end, a story is nothing more than (moving) images and words. But that doesn’t mean that a great story is easily told. The science shows that the most powerful stories really need to be crafted. Step by step, they secretly draw people into the experience of the storyteller. That’s how we capture people’s attention. But at the same time, we need to leave something up for the listener to fantasize about. Let them make it their own.
I hope you liked this article on the science of storytelling. And if you’re more of a visually oriented person, take a look at this beautiful infographic of OneSpot that visualizes the true science of storytelling.
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