Storytelling — February 1, 2015 at 8:38 pm

The Power of Storytelling

Good stories force the brain to secrete a hormone released during orgasm. Photo by Jim Pennuja
Good stories force the brain to secrete a hormone released during orgasm. Photo by Jim Pennuja

Stories are an age-old art of communication for humans.

But it seems more like a dying art in the age dominated by 140-character Tweets, posts of Facebook babies and zippy text messages.

The idea of telling a compelling story still has its appeal. This concept is often lost among the multimedia students I teach.

I find that I have to spend the first part of every semester explaining the elements of a story. This should be simple. But it is not. Beginning students all want to shoot and post YouTube videos of skateboarders or bungee jumpers.

I explain that to captivate and hold a viewer’s attention there has to be more – the video has to have a story line along with a beginning, middle and end.

“What is the purpose of the video?” I ask the students, often getting blank stares.

“Where are you going to take me after you capture the guy falling out the airplane or getting a pie in the face?”

So I thought I would try this one out on students: Great stories should be orgasmic. Literally. There is science behind it.

I hit on this after reading a piece in the New York Times citing recent research conducted by a business professor.  It turns out that character-driven stories cause the brain to release a hormone called oxytocin, also called the love hormone, writes New York Times reporter Alina Tugend.

The same hormone is found to be plentiful in lactating women and it is released during childbirth and orgasm.

The hormone is secreted by pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain. It is thought to bolster trust and empathy.

An experiment conducted by Professor Paul Zak at Claremont Graduate University found that participants who had blood drawn before and after watching videos of character-driven stories had higher levels of oxytocin in their blood stream.

The result? These participants were more like to donate money to a charity associated with the underlying story, reports the New York Times.

The problem is not every story is well told. There is actually been a decline in storytelling skills given the move toward mobile and Web. The best storytellers are avid readers. Web technology favors grazing or information bytes rather than long stories. Consequently, many individuals have little or no knowledge of the basics of storytelling.

Learning or re-learning storytelling skills  often requires a formal education. “And consultants are lining up to teach it – sometimes for a hefty fee,” notes Tugend.

Students are well-served when taught the basics of storytelling in any multimedia program.

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