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The Architecture of Story

Why Our Brains Are Hard-wired for Story

“By the grace of their limbic brains, mammals find such exultant metaphor irresistible.”A General Theory of Love.

Once upon a time, you loved to listen to  stories. Remember settling down with your mum or dad, or favourite relative, or maybe sitting in the story-corner at primary school ? The hush descending in the room. That wonderful exhilarating feeling of your imagination being fired.

As adults, we still respond in the same way to a well-told tale, whether via the movies, a gifted leader, or in the traditional way told by a story-teller. Stories inspire and connect us. But why? Is there anything science can tell us about our brains and why we are so hard-wired for story?

David Eagleman’s new book Incognito: Secret Lives of the Brain explains how the architecture of our brain makes us all story-makers.  In a human brain, the two hemispheres interact, constantly striving to make a coherent whole of our experiences. The connection we feel with others during storytelling is also due to this unique architecture of our brain. We have a limbic system which allows us to resonate with others.

Eagleman says “left hemisphere acts as an ‘interpreter,’ watching the actions and behaviors of the body and assigning a coherent narrative to these events.”

In one sense, story-making is a survival activity. Eagleman says “The brain’s storytelling power kicks into gear only when things are conflicting or difficult to understand.”

Says Kathy Hansen of A Storied Career, who recently reviewed Eagleman’s book in her blog “Unfolding brain research continues to shed important light on how story works at the core of our beings, even at unconscious levels to which we will never have access or control.”

Because of the evolution of the human brain, we are able feel the resonance of who we are in a safe way, through stories. We get to glimpse the richness of our interior world and make sense of where and who we are. 

In The Story Cafe, we are using stories to promote reflection and insight, integrating right and left brain activity.  Now you know what the science is behind it!


With thanks to Kathy Hansen for her wonderful curating work on Story and above references: www.astoriedcareer.com

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