The Science of Storytelling

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Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture
The Science of Storytelling

The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains

In 1748, the British politician and aristocrat John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, spent a lot of his free time playing cards. He greatly enjoyed eating a snack while still keeping one hand free for the cards. So he came up with the idea to eat beef between slices of toast, which would allow him to finally eat and play cards at the same time. Eating his newly invented "sandwich," the name for two slices of bread with meat in between, became one of the most popular meal inventions in the western world. What's interesting about this is that you are very likely to never forget the story of who invented the sandwich ever again. Or at least, much less likely to do so, if it would have been presented to us in bullet points or other purely information-based form

On the Science:

It's in fact quite simple. If we listen to a powerpoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part in 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. And that's it, nothing else happens. When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.


A lot of this information is not new, but this article still proves interesting and also gives some useful pointers/reminders about engaging writing and presenting. And proves true that I will never forget the story of the man I am forever indebted to, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Mmmmm. Sandwiches. God bless that courageous culinary genius.

I just finished teaching Thomas King's The Truth About Stories, which has one of my favourite explanation of stories ever: "The truth about stories is that that's all we are." It puts even the quote in the article that "personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversations" under suspicion: the percentage should be much higher!

I do appreciate having yet another arrow in my quiver to fire at power point, though. Up yours, .ppt!