Your brain on stories
We all love a good story.
From the once-upon-a-times we tell our children to the tales of love and tragedy we find in graphic novels and Shakespearean literature, it seems we can’t get enough.
There have long been anecdotal accounts of the magic of story-telling. From the wondrous to the grotesque, history has shown us time and again the sheer power that a persuasive orator can wield with a rousing speech and a vision of change. And now technology is beginning to provide us key insights as to why this might be.
It takes two
Whilst we’d all agree that verbal communication is usually a joint activity, to date most research has only analysed speech production and comprehension as independent processes that occur within the confines of the individual brain.
But in 2010, a group of neuroscientists at Princeton University decided to buck the trend and monitor exactly what was going on inside the brains of both the story-tellers and their listeners, using an fMRI machine . What they found was remarkable indeed.
// Neural coupling
They discovered that whilst the speaker was communicating to the listener, both their brains showed very similar activity across widespread areas. Their brains were effectively ‘in sync’ with one another.
// Time delay
The researchers also found that whilst the listeners’ brain activity mirrored the speaker’s, it occurred with a time delay.
// Predicting communication success
And finally, the more extensive the neural coupling, the more successful the communication. In fact, they were actually able to predict how successful a piece of communication was simply by measuring the extent of the coupling in the speaker and the listener’s brains.
Use this online
Whilst this is all very exciting stuff, if we want our communication to be really effective, we have to get our listeners to actively engage [2,3].
So, the next time you’re thinking about getting your message out there, whether you’re writing an article, recording a podcast or using video, try telling a story instead.
The response might well surprise you.
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The Psychology of Online Persuasion
 Stephens, G. J., Silbert, L. J. & Hasson, U. (2010) Speaker-listener neural coupling underlies successful communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(32), pp. 14425-14430.
 Clark, H.H. (1996) Using Language (Cambridge Univ Press, Cambridge, UK).
 Clark, H.H. & Wilkes-Gibbs, D. (1986) Referring as a collaborative process. Cognition, 22, pp. 1–39.