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May 2019

The Science of Storytelling

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The Science of Storytelling

We’ve been fascinated by a new book called “The Science of Storytelling” by journalist Will Storr. In his book, Storr writes about his personal exploration of why stories are such powerful tools. He discusses how they create connections, change and engagement.

3 insights into the power of stories

Over the years we’ve been gathering our own deep understanding of the science of stories:

1. Stories help people to remember more. 

a pile of books

Jennifer Aaker is a professor of marketing at Stanford University and according to her research people are 22 times more likely to remember a message when it’s told as a story.

She cites research for Save the Children where 2 groups were each given a 1 minute pitch for the charity. The first group were given a fact and stats based presentation and the second group were given information in a story.

After 10 minutes, each group was asked to write down what they remembered about the charity. Only 5% of participants remembered the stats but 63% remembered the story.

2. Stories trigger hormonal changes and encourage people to donate more.

Harvard Psychologist Paul Zac wondered what was going in in peoples’ brain when they were told a story. So he came up with an experiment to find out whether there were any changes in their hormone levels. He discovered that a well told told triggers the release of 2 key hormones – cortisol associated with stress and attention – and oxytocin – the empathy hormone.

And astoundingly he also found that people who’d watched a moving story, were more likely to donate to charity and to donate more than people who simply watched a presentation.

But, the story must be constructed along very specific lines, with 5 key elements. Happily, these fit very neatly with the classic ‘dramatic arc’ known to writers and film makers.

3. Story telling may be the only way to change someone’s mind.

old fashioned lightbulb

A fact based presentation encourages people to challenge your argument because it engages analytical parts of the brain. However, Princeton researchers led by Uri Hasson found that a story creates a direct connection between teller and audience, to the extent that similar parts of the brain were activated in both parties.

“When the storyteller had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too. When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs. By simply telling a story, the woman could plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners’ brains.”

We regularly run Storytelling Workshops for charities, so for more info have a look at our workshops page.

imogen gower magneto producerImogen Gower in an Assistant Producer at Magneto Films. She recently graduated from King’s College London with a degree in English Language & Linguistics. Imogen has joined the team at Magneto and is training in film production.

Magneto Films is an award winning production company that specialises in working with brands, technology and the charity and public sectors. More about Magneto Films

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