The Biology of Storytelling: The Logical and Emotional Brain

By: Jake

If you’ve been reading the Big Marketing Insider, you already know that telling a story can help you connect with your audience by appealing to their emotional as well as their logical sensibilities. Humans’ continued love of storytelling, even in the hyper-rational 21st century, is a fascinating subject, and we wanted to delve deeper into why stories can be so impactful. It turns out that our fundamental love of storytelling is tied to the very way human brains are structured.

Now, at this point we should mention that there’s a lot humans still don’t know about how the brain works. This post reflects knowledge of the brain as we currently understand it.

The human brain is an incredibly advanced organ, and easily the most complex biological structure we have seen to date. With over 100 billion neurons, each of which fires around 200 times per second, you can imagine the astounding amount of information processing that happens in every single human brain.

Different parts of the brain serve different functions, and when the brain is faced with information, it sends that information to various parts in order to process it. The two areas most involved with understanding stories are the cerebral cortex and the limbic system.

The cerebral cortex in the front lobe of the brain is responsible for logical reasoning. When it comes to breaking down information into its logical parts, analyzing the pros and cons of a particular decision, or having an abstract thought about an intangible concept, it is the cerebral cortex that handles this processing.

Meanwhile, the limbic system, which contains the amygdala and the hippocampus, is responsible for the brain’s emotional responses. The amygdala is the part of the brain that identifies danger, leading to the feelings of anxiety and suspense. In addition to responding to real danger, these feelings are also involved in storytelling, as when the listener is immersed in suspense and eagerly waiting for the resolution of a story. The limbic system has additionally been linked to the feelings of trust and friendship, which are obviously also important when trying to make an impact on an audience.

When you tell a story, the limbic system and the cerebral cortex work simultaneously to process the information. The key to a great presentation is knowing when to turn to storytelling and when to convey factual information. Many successful presenters have a strategy of “wrapping” the facts in stories, by starting out with a story to gain the audience’s attention, then laying out the factual information, and finally linking that information back to the opening story in order to facilitate understanding.

We may learn more about how the brain works in the future, but one thing is for sure—human love of stories and storytelling is here to stay.

About Jake Taylor

Little Jack's resident wordsmith since 2010.

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