The Neurochemistry of Stories

A good story makes us laugh or cry, feel empathy or anger. But it does more than touch us emotionally. A good story also changes us physiologically, researchers are learning, and in so doing, can alter our behavior.

Paul J. Zak, PhD, professor of economics, psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University in California, researched the link between empathy, neurochemistry and the narrative arc. And he discovered something surprising.

A story’s narrative arc, that is, the beginning-middle/climax-end pattern prevalent in all stories, creates changes in brain chemistry that impact our decisions and actions. Indeed, stories change us on a very real and physical level and in so doing, impact how we behave.

All too often, people shrug off stories as child’s play. But politicians, religious leaders, historians, writers, psychologists and marketers have long known otherwise. Now,  science is providing proof of that.

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