Positive psychologist Shawn Achor describes how there are 11 million pieces of information from our nerve endings that bombard our brains, but our brains only comprehend 40 bits of information per second. If we want to capture the attention of someone’s busy brain, we have to do something that causes our message to rise above the noise. This is where stories become our knights in shining armor. For example, imagine a king being presented a long list of words explaining facts about the army of a nearby kingdom. The parts of the king’s brain that would get activated are the language areas,(Broca’s area and Wernick’s area) whose job it is to interpret meaning of those words. Think of these areas as two crusty old philosophers whose job it is to sit in the royal library and interpret the meaning of words. Sometimes the meaning of the words gets so lost in the brain’s translation library that the king doesn’t realize what is truly important or when to take action.
Sometimes the explanatory words will make immediate sense and the meaning will retained forever. Too often, however, important facts goes in one ear and out the other. But if the prince wakes up the king and explains those same facts in the form of a story, a sleeping dragon in the insula of the brain wakes up, yawns, opens his eyes wide and starts to pay attention. If the story shared is a story that evokes emotion or reveals danger on the horizon, the king will be far more likely to listen, understand and take immediate action. The king’s brain pays attention to the story as it produces signs of arousal, increases the heart rate and breathing, and releases stress hormones.
When a story has captured our attention long enough, we may begin to transport into the story until we resonate with the characters, mirror their emotions and feel empathy. Empathy is increased by the release of oxytocin in the brain, the neurochemical that activates transportation, and stories activate this process. The more oxytocin released by the story, the more likely that person who heard the story will take action. Telling stories engage larger portions of the brain. Studies have proven that stories activate the regions in the brain that process movement, sights, taste and sounds, making stories far more memorable than fact listing. Jerome Bruner explained that a fact is “wrapped in a story is 22-times more memorable.” As Amanda D’Annunici explains, the brain naturally sees the world through narrative, and that is why stories grab our attention and more fully engage the entire human experience.