Why do we love stories?

Why do we love stories?

Why do we love stories? 370 218 Shlomi Ron


People love to tell stories but have you ever wondered why?

From the time cavemen sat around campfires and told stories about a challenging bear hunt or a fishing adventure – stories offered an effective mechanism for knowledge transfer. From this perspective, the campfire was the social media platform of the day that congregated all community members to engage in an in-person information exchange. And that’s how communities developed shared identities and cultures.

Yes, likes, comments, and shares to stories were all done verbally 🙂

As time passed, these campfire stories were transformed into legends that were passed from one generation to the next. Today, the new campfire is Netflix or YouTube we use to get entertained with a good movie or snackable video clips.

Our attention span has much more choices and it would be incorrect to say it’s shrinking. For example, depending on my mindset I choose to either binge on a 3-episode Netflix original series or get updated about news of the day through a comic filter of the The Daily Show clips on YouTube.

The campfire served as the ultimate social platform for exchanging stories.

The content selection is rich and it’s just a matter of context and mood that dictate the length of attention we’re willing to allocate.

The historic role of stories as information containers is one aspect of why we love stories. But when you dig deeper what is the secret formula that makes stories so powerful. You’ll find a timeless recipe that is baked into any story.

The power of storytelling whether it’s a movie, political campaign or an explainer video, is built on the timeless three-act story structure: 1) Setting (introduce the character, time and location, disruptive action), 2) Conflict (what dragons the hero battles along the way) and 3) Resolution (outcome describing if our hero won or lost.).

The sequence could vary but these three ingredients are a must-have for any good story.

Psychology researcher Uri Hasson and his team scientifically demonstrated the power of stories

Another great evidence why we love stories came from Psychology researcher Uri Hasson at Princeton University. Professor Hasson and his team have shown that during a storytelling experiment the storyteller’s brain activity can actually be mirrored in the listeners’ minds – a phenomenon he coined as Neural Coupling.

In this study, volunteers listened to a 15-minute audio recording of an emotional story of high school prom while their brains were imaged by fMRI. Next, listeners took a test on story comprehension and recall ability. After the listeners’ fMRI data was mapped to the storyteller’s own fMRI, those listeners who scored highest on story comprehension also showed the closest neural coupling to the speaker. Top listeners synchronize with the speaker and even anticipate thoughts This implies that people understand each other by mirroring each other’s brain responses

This is critical!

Because it demonstrates that part of the reason why we love stories has to do with their unique capability to mentally teleport us to the world depicted in the story. When we read words that describe emotions, feelings, colors or odors the same region in our brain is activated as if we would smell that particular odor in real life.

This unique ability to mentally reenact stories we all possess is further explored by Paul Zak, a professor of economics, psychology, and management at Claremont Graduate University who discovered a neurochemical called oxytocin. In his words “Oxytocin is produced when we are trusted or shown kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others. It does this by enhancing the sense of empathy, our ability to experience others’ emotions. Empathy is important for social creatures because it allows us to understand how others are likely to react to a situation, including those with whom we work.”

Professor Paul Zak discovered a neurochemical called oxytocin 
that is responsible for empathy, trust, and kindness

Professor Paul Zak in his research run narrative videos to subjected tested oxytocin levels before and after watching the videos. He found that oxytocin is released in the brain with character-based stories and with tension. This tension could revolve around your customer’ pain points and the more details you provide around this challenge the more empathy your audience will experience.

Triggering the right brain chemicals

When you’re looking to create a compelling story in support of your brand narrative, another way to think about it is to ensure your story structure triggers the right brain chemicals to achieve an optimal result. The role of emotions, and their sequence in a story also play a key role. Especially, when your story is destined at the top of the funnel where audience’s attention span is narrow. A strong jolt of emotions to trigger Dopamine right in the beginning of your story is essential. And don’t forget including a meaningful conflict in your story to trigger Cortisol. Depending on your story’s goals, your narrative strategy will change.

Brain Chemicals

Great stories trigger happy and stress brain chemicals. 

Granted, this is not an exact science and I am not saying this information will provide you with the secret combination to unlock your customer’s “Engagement Safe” – every time.

As we all know, human behavior is much more complex. There are also internal and external factors at play that either detract or help to build trust, empathy, and action.

Your research will help you capture a more accurate picture of your customer’s world.

So to summarize we love stories because they are engaging instruments that deliver information beyond flat stats and facts. You can spot them in regular conversation when they prefaced with the short “for example” or longer version “let me tell you a story…” In addition, stories have this unique capability to drive empathy through Neural Coupling and the release of oxytocin in the brain.

So when you’re thinking about your visual storytelling strategy, it’s important to first closely research your ideal buyer personas and based on your findings, construct stories that have well-defined relatable characters, surprising tension around a business problem and a clear bridge to the resolution where your CTA lives. Plan your story with an eye on what part will trigger the right brain chemical. Once you have your story defined, you can spruce it up with a visual media format (e.g., image, video, infographics, AR, VR etc) that would make sense to your chosen distribution platform and last but not least, stages of your buyer’s journey.

Form, function, and timing are key!

If you follow these simple steps, chances are your audience will see themselves in your story, empathize, trust your message, and be more inclined to act on your call to action.

Need help in making your customers love your stories? Schedule a FREE conversation to inquire about our Visual Storytelling Workshop.

Shlomi Ron

Shlomi Ron is the CEO of the Visual Storytelling Institute (VSI), the primary think tank for helping brands rise above the communication noise through visual storytelling consulting, training, production, and thought leadership. A digital marketing veteran with over 20 years of experience working both on the agency and brand sides for Fortune 100/500 brands such as Nokia, IBM, and American Express. Along his journey, he was nursing his side passion for visual media with interests in classic Italian cinema (cafePellicola.com) and video art (BukySchwartz.com). Thought leader and speaker at key marketing conferences. He is also the host of the Visual Storytelling Today podcast. Shlomi's new book: Total Acuity: Tales with Marketing Morals To Help You Create Richer, Visual Brand Stories. His favorite quote: "A story is nothing but a mirror. The magic happens the moment your brand story mirrors your customer’s personal story." Outside work, he is a nascent bread baker, The Moth fan, and longtime fedora wearer likely to jive with his classic Italian cinema interest.

All stories by: Shlomi Ron
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