Why do we get so wrapped up in a really great story?

by JoslynChase in Learning, Reading
So many stories, so little time

So many stories, so little time

We crave Story. We need it, we live for it.

Recent research suggests that our brains are literally hardwired to process story in a way that is vital to our well-being. Story, in its fundamental form, is no less than a tool for survival.

Lisa Cron, in her book, Wired for Story, writes that Story acts like a sort of virtual training ground, allowing our subconscious mind to run scenarios on multiple levels, evaluating solutions, learning and preparing. That is why we are so compelled by a good story. It’s part of our innate tool box.

Lisa writes, “Story is what enables us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it.” To bookworms like me, this is fantastic news. When I’m reading a great story, I’m honing my skills. She also says, “…the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it.”

For an entertaining look at more on this subject, check out Lisa’s Wired For Story Ted Talk.

A really great story, the kind that grabs us by the throat and doesn’t let go, is doing at least two things well.

First, it captures and holds our attention. Once that is accomplished, it transports us into the story world where we experience the same emotions as the characters in the story. Our brain reacts as if we’re really there. We’re in the simulator, and we are learning and preparing for events in the future.

While it’s probably true that we’ll never have to engage in hand-to-hand combat while riding atop a speeding train that’s about to enter a tunnel, our brain is learning tactics that it can adapt to the situation at hand. Chemical changes are occurring in that super complex computer system housed within our skulls.

Brain research shows that certain parts of our brains are stimulated under certain types of conditions.

When we listen to a lecture, a simple recitation of facts, the language processing portion of our brain goes into action and decodes the sets of words into meanings. But when the lecture takes on the form of a story, so much more happens in the brain, and we start to experience the events of the story as if they were happening to us. This enhances our learning and allows us to better retain what we learn and increase our ability to access that information within our brain when the need arises.

So, next time you’re curling up with a good book or settling in to watch a great movie, you can silence that guilty inner voice that says you should be doing something more constructive.  What’s more important than honing your skills for success and survival?  Get caught up in the thrall of story!

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