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Tell Me a Story

It was a dark and stormy night …

Do I have your attention?

What is it about a story that captures the attention of audiences, keeping them reading and engaged? Even simple storytelling or narrative language can viscerally engage us. We visualize the scene, smell the smells, feel the objects being described, and experience the emotions felt by a character or described by a narrator. But why does this happen?

“Psychologists are very interested in this question, and have some ideas. One theory is that we all have many ‘scripts’ stored in our neurons,” writes Wray Herbert in a blog post for Psychological Science titled “The Narrative in Neurons.” Herbert reports on a group of psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis who recently released a study in Psychological Science that examined the effect of stories on neurons.

“Jeffrey Zacks and his colleagues suspected that several different regions of the brain collaborate in the reading of a tale…. The scientists used a brain scanner to see what regions lit up during the reading of a story…. The idea was to see if different parts of the brain lit up as the reader’s imagined situation unfolded. And they did.”

“These findings, reported on-line in the journal Psychological Science, strongly suggest that readers are far from passive consumers of words and stories. Indeed, it appears that we dynamically activate real-world scripts that help us to comprehend a narrative – and those active scripts in turn enrich the story beyond its mere words and sentences. In this way, reading is much like remembering or imagining a vivid event.”

Applying the findings of this study and Herbert’s blog post to marketing, Roger Dooley at in his blog post, “Your Brain on Stories,” argues for the importance of telling a good, compelling story in marketing. You need to tell a story that people and customers will relate to. Dooley recommends: “My advice: to engage potential customers, write a vivid story involving your product. It’s worked for the best copywriters and most successful ads in history, and it can work for you.”


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