These days, stories are meant more for entertainment but, occaisionally, we can find a worthwhile lesson to be learned from them. We can tell it's going to be good story after reading only a page or two. We feel it in our gut. Our stomach, science tells us, is a pretty good indicator for most things, including stories.
I used to think of stories as emerging from consciousness...dreams, fanatasies, you know, the imagination. Then, like magic, they travelled through words to the minds of others. We tend to think of stories as being outside of ourselves; on paper or the big screen. Science is showing us that we can, and do, feel stories within. Here's how that works.
When we experience a story, it alters our neurochemical processes. Stories are a powerful force in shaping human behavior, too. Current research indicates that stories aren't merely a means of connecting and entertainment, they are also instruments of control. Words are powerful!
Storytelling has been around since the beginning of man. Human roots are in storytelling; they shape beliefs and behaviours. Often, below conscious awareness. In modern times, humans are being fed stories constantly. But science can teach you humans (and us frogs, too) how to best defend ourselves in an environment where everyone is trying their best to push our buttons with the stories they tell us. (We'll delve into that in tomorrow's blog.)
It starts off with imagining your attention as the spotlight. When someone tell you a story, they are attempting to control that spotlight. They are, in fact, manipulating you. Probably the first thing that comes to your mind are ad executives. They get paid big money for their ability to do this well. But did you know that we ALL do this all the time? We're constantly trying to get someone's attention; at work, at home, with our friends and family. We all have stories to tell and we work like crazy to get them told. Some are important. Most are not. Heck, I'm trying to get, and hold, your attention right now!
Authors can try to capture the reader's attention in many ways but, eventually, a villain shows up and a conflict develops. As the action rises, so does our attention. Human bodies release more cortisol. If that doesn't happen, we quickly lose interest in the story. Science goes on to tell us that cortisol alone isn't enough to keep our bodies engaged with the story. It's very important, too, that the characters are likeable. That we come to care about them. Why? Oxytocin, that's why. This is a neuropeptide that gets released when we bond with others. When we like the story's characters, we come to care deeply abut them. The body releases oxytocin, making us feel conneced to them, even though they're fictional. We have a very real physical reaction to very unreal fictional characters!
And that's not all that happens. Research states that when we become involved with the story and the characters, the brain activity of both the storytellers and the story listeners start to align. It's called mirror neutrons; brain cells that fire not only when we perform an action, but also when we see someone else perform that same action. As we read, or watch, the story unfold we become so involved with the fictional characters that we actually experience very real things; we can taste the foods they're eating, we become sad when the character is sad, often crying real tears. We flinch when they become hurt or injured. And when our character comes into conflict with the villain, our palms sweat and we feel the tension building. Our bodies prepare for the threat, even though it's completely imaginary! When the conflict is resolved, we feel relief. In good storytelling, we experience a phenomenon called 'transportaion.' Transportation happens when attention and anxiety join up with our feeling of empathy. Another way to say this is, the story has us hooked!
Check out tomorrow's blog when I will finish telling you the story of stories....