The science behind storytelling

Mark Minelli


Emotionally engaging stories affect more areas of the brain than rational, data-driven messages – meaning that they are far more likely to resonate with your employees. Jenny Nabben explains the neuroscience behind this, and how you can use it to showcase the benefits of storytelling.

Across every culture, in every part of the world, humans have told stories to understand, share and recall knowledge.

While our ancestors sat around the camp fire listening to the tribal storyteller, we now sit in cinemas, theaters or in front of TVs, computers and mobile phones to share the stories of our lives. In fact, the universal nature of storytelling may explain our shared, evolved human psyche.

One of the brain’s unique design features is its ability to recognize patterns so that we can quickly predict what is most likely to happen next. Over the centuries we have used narrative story structure as the most elegant way to communicate our messages, passions, vision and who we are.

Our appetite for storytelling is voracious; since the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in around 1440, humans have so far written around 129,864,880 books, and while each book is unique we can group them into common themes. Christopher Booker, in his book The Seven Basic Plots, suggests that there are seven ‘core’ plots that comprise the most commonly recognizable narrative structures. These are, a journey taken and the return; overcoming challenges; making our way in the world; a quest; comedy; tragedy; and rebirth.


Another interesting take on why stories work.