Every single one the many methods of storytelling we encounter gives us the opportunity to learn, experience and shape our core beliefs. Stories prompt us to think deeply about our values and opinions through the messages we interpret through conflicting meanings. We often don’t realize the power stories have over shaping our lives. A long history of how storytelling has helped us to evolve is worth studying deeper. In traversing everyday situations and the complications of modern day life it is amazing how we can be swayed by what we read or hear. The more we emotionally invest ourselves and feelings in what we choose to listen to, the more we are often so easily tricked by something so simple as a story. As in practically everything, the less critical you are, the less objectively observant you become.
A recent example of the power of storytelling
The celebrated US journalist Rob Walker for a time was fixated on how the intensity of stories affected everyday life and wanted to find out if storytelling really was the most powerful tool of all. His idea for doing this was to log into his eBay account and purchase 200 objects for an average price of $1 each. Rob then contacted 200 renowned authors, asking them if they would agree to be part of his study. They all agreed and wrote a story to reflect the significance of the object they had each been assigned.
Rob re-listed all 200 objects including a short story illustrating their background and worth. An example of one piece was a beautiful horse’s head. The head was initially bought for 99c. With the story attached it sold for $62.95, and increase of 6,395%. Thankfully, a similar trend accompanied 129 sales out of the 200 re-listed. Rob Walker’s one-off experiment in attaching stories to inexpensive objects bought on eBay, turned his $200 into over $8,000 after fees.
A brief history of storytelling
A consensus of historians tentatively agree that our language started to develop roughly around 100,000 years ago. Cave paintings became the method by which generational stories were passed down about 27,000 years ago. It is only in the past 3,500 years that forms of text have been the process by which knowledge was dispersed from generation to generation. For an awfully large part of our history, mankind existed through a hierarchy that followed an oral tradition in which wisdom, life and death was determined by what was said and how closely you listened.
The invention of the printing press during the mid-1400’s boosted gradual improvements in literacy. The industrial revolution radically empowered the majority a great deal more. The mass movement from fields to factories became a significant milestone in the development of communication as a whole. Today’s ever increasing trend in technology innovation still relies heavily on the spoken word in order to progress our forward momentum and interaction with each other.
Recognizing the honeymoon period
The most wonderful emotional investment ever is falling in love. It’s a story everybody has lived through at least once. I’m sure you will never forget the last time you fell in love. The remembrance of that incredible experience, exquisite, beautiful feeling of walking on air. Do you remember how you longed and yearned to merely be in the presence of your heart’s desire? Everything that person did was pure poetry. You just loved the cute crunching sound they made while eating their cornflakes.
12 months or so later when you biochemically fall out of love, which is about how long the honeymoon period is said to last, you have become excruciatingly horrified at the sight and sound of your partner eating cornflakes. You find yourself barely tolerating your beloved these days. Your brain has become flooded with neurotransmitters and hormones hijacking your cortex, throwing your objectively observant skills out of the window. The story has now changed. The chemicals in your brain have changed. Your priorities have changed.
The science behind our addiction to stories
Being a member of an audience, be it last week or 10,000 years ago, the same hormones and neurotransmitters are released, activated and produce certain chemicals to induce in you various states. Listening to a story now is the same as it has always been regarding your physiology. Four major hormone chemicals can be released in your brain whilst you are riveted by a captivating tale. The endorphins can be said to be your brain’s natural pain relievers. These chemicals are vasopressin, oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine.
In reverse order, dopamine is a mood boosting neurotransmitter responsible for your state of happiness and wellbeing. Serotonin is a mood stabilizer and helps combat depression. Controlling human behaviour, oxytocin acts on physical pars of your body including the reproductive system. Periods of alertness, sleepiness and wakefulness are regulated by naturally occurring vasopressin.
Just by simply using storytelling you can utilise many techniques to produce whatever feelings you require. You don’t necessarily have to invoke a cliff-hanger, which is a useful device, in order to tweak the relevant hormone. Whilst listening to a story, your mood is determined chiefly by your engagement. Whether the story is funny, scary, a tearjerker, heroic or you find yourself the centre of proceedings, the chemicals induced by your level of involvement will alter your mood..
Telling stories is how we create meaning as we all interact with each other for the benefit of everybody. Like we have always done, we constantly search for signals that tell us we belong. There is a long history that points towards the necessity of having to rely on each other for our survival. What we tell ourselves contributed massively towards a stronger whole in our fight for continuity. It’s never too late to recognize the power and potential concerning how we communicate with each other. Now more than ever let us accept that listening is just as important as the stories we tell.
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