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Story on the Brain

By June 30, 2021 No Comments

Stories change minds. I don’t just mean your point of view, I mean they literally change your mind, they alter your brain chemistry.

When you engage with a story oxytocin – the empathy chemical is released. In short you care. You mirror the emotions of the story and continue to do so after the story has finished.

Here is an excerpt from Paul J. Zak’s article for the Harvard Business Review. He is the founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies and a professor of economics, psychology, and management at Claremont Graduate University, and the CEO of Immersion Neuroscience. 

As social creatures, we depend on others for our survival and happiness… a neurochemical called oxytocin is a key “it’s safe to approach others” signal in the brain. Oxytocin is produced when we are trusted or shown a 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.

[We] wondered if we could “hack” the oxytocin system to motivate people to engage in cooperative behaviors… we found that character-driven stories do consistently cause oxytocin synthesis. Further, the amount of oxytocin released by the brain predicted how much people were willing to help others; for example, donating money to a charity associated with the narrative. 

We discovered that, in order to motivate a desire to help others, a story must first sustain attention – a scarce resource in the brain – by developing tension during the narrative. If the story is able to create that tension then it is likely that attentive viewers/listeners will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters. This explains the feeling of dominance you have after James Bond saves the world, and your motivation to work out after watching the Spartans fight in 300.

Read the full article here.

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