The Neuroscience: Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling

Neuroscience of storytelling

Cognitive science has long recognized narrative as a basic organizing principle of memory. From early childhood, we tell ourselves stories about our actions and experiences.

Accuracy is not the main objective – coherence is. If necessary, our minds will invent things that never happened simply to hold the narrative together.

Storytelling has been with us as long as there have been people – well probably. A couple thousand years ago Aristotle wrote advice on how to tell a story: it should have a beginning, a middle and an end.

It should include a variety of realistic characters, some of whom suffer at least one reversal of fortune. Good advice.

Mahatma Gandhi frequently quoted the passage from Ramcharit Manas. In an awareness of political subtext of religion in India, people continued support Gandhi’s desired for a secular nation, even when that means setting aside acknowledged masterpieces of Indian literature.

This is the power of story-telling.

We have grown up listening stories. There is a very famous story of King Harishchandra. If you ask anyone in India about him, everybody will give you an answer that the king stands for truth.

Harishchandra story has been told by our parents to teach us about the greatness of speaking truth. This story is traveling through generations. It is more than 1000 years old.

This story affected Mahatma Gandhi, who was deeply influenced by the virtues of telling the truth when he watched the play of Harishchandra in his childhood.

If we listen to a powerpoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part of the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning.

Stories activate your imagination and engage your emotions; they light up more of the brain than a stream of bullet points on PowerPoint. You only need think about a dream you had recently to reflect on how compelling your imagination can be.

You can visually recreate the characters and scenes in your own head, leading to a sense of immersion and remote experience.

If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were, our sensory cortex lights up. If it’s about motion, our motor cortex gets active:

Emma Brudner from Hubspot, in her article “The Neuroscience Behind Storytelling in Sales

She prepares two pitch, one is plain and another one is a story. See below.

Which of the following two sales pitches do you prefer?

“Our product was voted #1 in customer satisfaction. It is 33% better than service X. It saves time and money.”

“Steve at Business Corp. switched to our product from service X about six months ago, and he told me last week that it’s saved the company $5,000 and about 10 reporting hours per week. He actually got a promotion for spearheading the transition! And the best part is that his whole staff loves the product.”

Afore quoted both pitches have the same information, if there is a differentiation then that is Plain Vs Story.

You decide which pitch will engage you?

JGR Communications has put Storytelling Vs Fact in the table.


Storytelling Just the Facts
Stories activate multiple senses in the brain; motor, auditory, olfactory, somatosensory and visual Facts activate two parts of the brain – Broca’s and Wernike’s areas
Stories use words that spark the senses making it easier for the brain to imagine, elaborate and recall. Each person develops their own unique experience from these experiences Facts use abstract, conceptual language that is more difficult for the brain to find associated sensory images
Stories are easier to recall due to the power of their sensory associations Facts are difficult for the brain to record and remember. This is why acronyms are popular because they help recall
Stories create characters we can identify with Facts don’t create characters and don’t generate emotional associations
Stories invoke emotion which is a neural activator. Emotional associations trump other forms of processing Facts are difficult to recall without emotion
Stories come in recognizable sequence – introduction, rising action, climax, falling action Facts are more linear and don’t easily form a recognizable temporal sequence
Stories provide motivation for action Facts are not inherently motivational unless knowing about something has additional benefit to us in terms of our ability to survive or thrive


Ethos3 has prepared an infographic presentation of “The Neuroscience of storytelling”.


Neuroscience of storytelling

One Response

  1. Toma March 10, 2018

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