Story, Breastfeeding and Sex

Researchers are continuing to plug away at working out why stories are so powerful.

They are finding a range of reasons why stories stick, from the fact that they trigger some primal impulses through to nailing what sort of hormones are stimulated when we listen to or read or see a story.

Jessica Marshall, writing in her blog, Empress of the Global Universe talks about the research of Paul Zak from Claremont Graduate University, California. He thinks the key story hormone, thinks the key hormone is oxytocin, produced during feel-good encounters such as breastfeeding and sex.

As a pioneer in oxytocin research, Zak has developed various ways to stimulate its release, including orchestrating situations where the subject of his experiment is trusted by a stranger. But the most potent so far is an emotionally charged story.

“Of all the stimuli we’ve developed that release oxytocin, this one was the best,” says Zak.

Getting volunteers to watch a 5-minute video telling the story of a 4-year-old boy with terminal brain cancer increased oxytocin levels by an average of 47 % compared with others who saw an emotionally neutral film about the same boy going to the zoo (Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol 1167, p 182).

“People were very engaged in the movie,’ he says. “The change in oxytocin correlated with their degree of empathy.”

Many indigenous people have long known that oral traditions and stories are fundamental to education and survival. But some how the western world relegated story to a pass-time. Now scientists are taking an interest in story, perhaps it will start to become taken more seriously in the mainstream arenas of business, government and leadership around the world.

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