Stories make us high.


We are addicted to stories. It's all in the chemistry. Let's get geeky.

What is the best way to generate meaning in our lives? Answer: stories.

Why do we tell stories? Answer: We tell them to make sense of things. To share wisdom. To help ourselves not feel alone. Stories help us feel better. They add meaning to our lives.

Why do stories help us feel better? Answer: chemistry. Yep - there's a biological explanation to why stories are so powerful.

Branding is the discipline of managing meaning. Design creativity is the way of communicating meaning. This is why I am very interested in this and why anyone who wants other humans to take action and "do" something should be too.


An overview.

If we go into the science of what happens with the brain when a story is told, we find different hormones being released from the brain.

Most stories begin with the problem or the danger. When danger hits, we get a dose of cortisol, the fight or flight hormone. It helps us pay attention.

As the story continues and we learn things we get dopamine which makes us feel good after learning.

Finally, when the threat of danger is removed and the problem is resolved we get a dose of oxytocin, ‘the love molecule’.

These chemicals are drugs. Basically, stories make us high.

This is why we, as a society, are hooked on stories from Hollywood blockbusters to telling of our nightmare journey to work. They give us meaning. They evoke our emotions. We love it. We are addicted.

A case study

I recently came across this very interesting video by Professor Paul Zak of a Claremont Graduate School. It was made in 2013 and is entitled the "Future Of Storytelling."

In the video, Zak describes an experiment he had done. He'd studied subjects who watched a video. The video is emotionally charged story of a dying boy whose father is seeking to connect with him. He found that depending on the levels of the hormones released in the video subjects behaviour could be predicted with up to 80% accuracy. They gave subjects the opportunity to donate money afterwards and discovered the amount of money a subject would share correlated to the amount of chemicals that were released through the story. Amazing. As the video shows the story changed behaviour through brain chemistry.


He also showed subjects another video of the boy and father simply walking in a zoo with no real story behind it. It was not based on emotions. In these studies the brains did nothing. Behaviour was not changed. Action was not taken. The story caused subjects to do something.

Start telling stories.

So if you want someone to do something. To take action. To buy from you, to donate to a cause or simply to hang out with you - tell stories. Stories are the key to action.

If you want your brand or marketing to be successful - tell a great story yourself and allow your customers the opportunity to tell great stories about you. If you are designing something today - tell a story through it.

Success will follow. It's chemistry.


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