Are We Programmed for Story?: How Story Connects Brands to People – Part 3

In continuing with some of the thoughts I’ve put together on creativity, business, and storytelling:

Studies are showing that we are programmed to better respond to stories. Wharton marketing professor Deborah Small conducted a study where participants were instructed to read a paragraph about need in Africa, and then donate accordingly. The first group was given a paragraph that told the story of seven-year-old Rokia living in poverty in Mali. The second group was given a paragraph that gave facts about the food shortage in Mali. More donations were given when the paragraph contained an “identifiable victim” (Small, Loewenstein, Slovic, 2007).

Paul J. Zak’s research goes into the chemical reasons why we’re drawn more towards story than facts. His lab discovered the neurochemical oxytocin, which “is produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others. It does this by enhancing the sense of empathy, our ability to experience others’ emotions” (Zak, 2014). By taking blood samples of subjects after showing them narratives, he discovered that stories do increase the amount of oxytocin in the blood stream. The oxytocin was not only an indicator of how engaged the person was in the storytelling, it was able to predict how much people were willing to help, engage, or donate to the cause attached to the narrative. His research also discovered that once a story is able to capture someone’s attention, that person “will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters” (Zak, 2014).

Zak is convinced that these findings are relevant to business settings as well. Businesses will be more effective if they tell “Character-driven stories with emotional content” which will result in a “better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make and enable better recall of these points weeks later.” This course of action, Zak says, “blows the standard PowerPoint presentation to bits” (Zak, 2014).

Next: Case study: charity: water

Last: Markers of Creative Businesses: How Story Connects Brands to People – Part 2


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