Stories entrance and entrain us

Recent research from Princeton finds confirmation in the brain of what we already experience:   Stories align minds.   In the research listener’s brain patterns closely mirrored the story teller’s brain patterns, and the strength of the mirroring correlated highly with the respondent’s ability to retell the tale.


People who tell captivating stories win more often than people who use even the best logical arguments.

But there has to be a minimum level of receptivity.  Some stories are calculated to block receptivity to stories that are considered to enhance the enemy‘s positions.

And there are also stories designed to break down barriers to receptivity.


5 Responses to “Stories entrance and entrain us”

  1. 1 Art Anderson September 30, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    You are right! As a teacher and later a preacher, I found that stories gained greater and faster traction than logic. Even when a bit of syllogistic reasoning is required, a poignant story will lock the lesson in place. I’m sure many explanations can be advanced for this. Stories not only contain their own integral logic, but they also appeal to our senses, often all five. They link experiences, draw on commonalities, and connect the past and/or future with the present. Throughout the ages, great teachers told stories.

  2. 2 Art Anderson September 30, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    Oops! Didn’t see the “Notify me . . .” Until after I hit Submit. Yes, please notify me via email regarding other comments. This is an interesting topic that definitely connects a big handful of those 100 trillion neuron dots.

  3. 3 Cindy Johnson September 30, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    Its wonderful research, Duncan — thanks for sharing. It was really Lisa who turned me on to the power and deep attraction of stories.

    And Art — very well stated! And might I add (which you probably implied) — in addition to stories appealing to the 5 senses and so on (which you put so well), its the heart-connection that deeply speaks to us.

    Lisa uses a Sanskrit word for that finest part of the heart that needs to and longs to be enlivened in our interactions, and which some stories touch.

  4. 4 creatingreciprocity December 2, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    I have been thinking a lot about this very subject recently – so thank you for posting the link. Just today as I was walking in the rain with my dog (is this a story??) I was wondering if stories and concepts are related. Perhaps we understand things better via stories because they contain more than simple information/facts but include context etc and therefore are more closely related to concepts than just data and maybe this is why they work so well?

    The famous Helen Keller story regarding her sudden epiphany at the water-pump and the dawning of a conceptual understanding of water – changed everything for her almost immediately. In spite of her disabilities she had surely been the recipient of information at a level up to that day and yet it wasn’t enough. Her ability to conceptualise seems to have been switched on at the water-pump and it activated an ability that was dormant in her. From then everything changed for Helen and she not only understood the concepts of material things in her environment but also much more subtle concepts like ‘mother’ and ‘love.’

  5. 5 duncanwork December 2, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    Hi and thanks for stopping by and leaving an interesting comment. Stories do help us understand concepts because they personalize them and associate them with familiar desires and emotions, and as you noted, add important context for understanding the concepts.

    As the article said, “stories align minds.” In the case of Helen and her teacher that you mentioned, her teacher wasn’t didn’t use a story to teach, but she *was* using a strong personal connection to emphatically get across the idea that a physical gesture can be used to communicate something else – “water.” Her teacher taught her how to reflect and communicate rather than to simply react. “Water” then became a concept and not just a physical sensation.

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