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December 12, 2012
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How Storytelling Affects the Brain

:iconlucy-merriman:
Lucy-Merriman Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2012  Student General Artist
So this is a really powerful neurological experiment that shows how stories affect people physically and emotionally, in a really demonstrable way: [link]

I got the video from the neurotic thought tumblr (neuroticthought.tumblr.com)

Questions: What story has had a profound effect on your life? How did it change you?

Also, this experiment focused on positive change. Do you think a story can produce a negative change in a person?
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:iconsmarticleparticle:
SmarticleParticle Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Two books have really affected me. The first was All Quiet on the Western Front. It seems like in history class, you're taught that the Germans were the bad guys, but in reality, your average German soldier was not much different to a British/American/French one, and they had it really hard towards the end of the war.

The second one was Ender's Game. It was so sad at the end *spoiler*, since the whole 3rd Bugger War was a misunderstanding. Even so, I kind of sympathised with Ender, even though he was a 6-year-old murderer. If you don't totally defeat the enemy while you can, you will fight the same battle over and over again.

I read both of those books when I was about 12, and they definitely had an impact on the way I thought and influenced my development.
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:iconcarusmm:
carusmm Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller made my heart ache soon after the death of my father. My father was a working slob who died suddenly. I loved my father, and I love Arthur Miller for his story.
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:iconlucy-merriman:
Lucy-Merriman Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2012  Student General Artist
Wow. That's intense.
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:iconmr-timeshadow:
Mr-Timeshadow Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2012
One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts by Shirley Jackson. I find it influencing my behavior every day. This story follows a seemingly middle-aged man around town for one day, as he does one good deed after another for random people he meets. Not until the end do we find out why he does it. That ending made me think for a very long time, and I decided to adopt part of his lifestyle as my own...at least as much as I could.
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:iconlucy-merriman:
Lucy-Merriman Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2012  Student General Artist
Awesome! I'll have to add it to my list.
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:iconmr-timeshadow:
Mr-Timeshadow Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2012
You might also want to add one other story that affected me for years: And My Fear is Great by Theodore Sturgeon. To this day, I still quote a scene involving a coffee table; it offers a useful metaphor for my worldview...
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:iconvglory:
vglory Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2012
I don't think that study really shows a story changing people. It shows that people come in with varying degrees of empathy for others. Those with a higher degree react more to the story and donate more to others. But there is no causal link should between the story and the donation that I can see. Only between being an empathic person and both outcomes.
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:iconlucy-merriman:
Lucy-Merriman Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2012  Student General Artist
But the people who watched the story had a greater empathic response than the people in the control group (who watched the video about the zoo).
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:iconvglory:
vglory Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2012
Yes. As such is shows that nice people get sad watching sad stories. But being nice is a pre-existing condition. At most the story helps "diagnose" which people are nice and which people are not.
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:iconvglory:
vglory Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2012
Yes, but that is like saying those people who ate food were less hungry than the control group.

Those responses are known (otherwise the ASPCA would not fill out airways with puppies)and transitory (otherwise the shelters would not still be full of homeless puppies).

The next day the person is exactly the same as the control group. To me "change" would be a more enduring effect.
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2012  Student Writer
Can a story produce a negative change in a person? :slow: What about The King in Yellow? [link]
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Seems like the content of the story was as relevant to producing oxytocin and cortisol as anything else. Also, what about the differences between told a story (even in video form) vs reading a story?

Anyway, I could see negative emotions being elicited by, say, a Holocaust survivor talking about Hitler. I couldn't see a fictional story, or something just in print, having very long-term effects of the sort described here (and I'm not even sure how long the effects of raised neurotransmitters from this would last, it seems like these data make it easier to identify people with more 'empathy' than anything else).

I have nothing useful to say about the lit-relevant part of this. :B I think it's worth dissecting how much we can get out of this study, though.
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:iconlucy-merriman:
Lucy-Merriman Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2012  Student General Artist
I agree that this study mostly seemed to be about short-term effects; we don't know, for instance, if they continued to donate money to charity later. But, I hypothesize that people who read often--even fiction (the story about the Dad and his son, as far as I could tell, is fictional)--are constantly being flooded with oxytocin, and thus are more empathetic in their actions or worldview than people who don't pursue stories.

Obviously, it's an untested hypothesis at this point, with a lot of variables (like you said, what "counts" as a story?)

Lastly: are you sure? I mean you're a writer. Surely some book must've effected you, even if it wasn't long-term. What book made you want to be a writer in the first place?
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:iconvglory:
vglory Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2012
We kind of do know that. If you take the case of cortisol, if you stimulate it to often the system breaks down and stops working. It is a hormone designed to have a transitory effect (help person run away from tiger). It is not designed to change your chronic state.
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Without the paper I can't be sure, but it seemed to me like the people who were donating to charity were the ones with the strongest oxytocin/cortisol response to the video. So it's not so much that the video is making it more likely people who wouldn't normally donate will donate (although obviously there was a short term impact), rather that, if a person experiences a strong empathetic response to a story (in the form of heightened oxytocin/cortisol), they happen to have a stronger innate empathetic response and are therefore more likely to be charitable.

So basically, reading a lot and having heightened responses to those stories may increase the empathy of someone who's already pretty empathetic, but I can't imagine them permanently raising a baseline.

Unless a more longitudinal study suggests this, of course. :shifty:

Oh, I'm one of those horrible cliche cases who's always had a story to tell.
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:iconvglory:
vglory Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2012
Exactly. The research showed that caring people (who were affected by the sad story) give money more money away. It did not show that stories make people more caring or make people give more money.
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I think the latter could be correlated, probably with serious limits, but that's as far as I'm willing to hypothesize.
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:iconkorafox:
korafox Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2012  Hobbyist
I think the Dark Tower books had a pretty profound impact on me when I read them in my late teens. Great stories can give you a great role model for being a better person. Because it's fantasy, the characters can persevere through things that a normal person probably couldn't. And even if we can't achieve that level of heroism, it still gives us something to shoot for in trying to live out our ideals.

Also, books can definitely have a negative change on people. Just ask anyone who's read Ayn Rand and then subscribed to that world view. *tongue in cheek but only slightly*
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:iconlucy-merriman:
Lucy-Merriman Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2012  Student General Artist
Ooh, I'm intrigued. Which characters in The Dark Tower did you feel were most a role model for you personally?
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:iconkorafox:
korafox Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2012  Hobbyist
Well, I've always had a soft spot for dedicated characters, and Roland is sort of the epitome of dedicated. ;)
I just really like the idea of having a code to live by, and that giving your word actually means something.
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:iconlucy-merriman:
Lucy-Merriman Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2012  Student General Artist
Awesome!
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:iconraspil:
raspil Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2012   Writer
may i ask "profound effect" in what way? seems like a dumb question but i need clarification.
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:iconlucy-merriman:
Lucy-Merriman Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2012  Student General Artist
Mm, I guess it can be as small as changing your opinion on an issue, or how you think about things in general, or as big as motivating you to do something different or make a personal change in your life.

For instance, if it caused you to exercise more, or stand up for people vocally. Maybe it changed your political opinion. Or, conversely, if it made you question yourself on certain issues or even hate yourself when you didn't before.
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:iconraspil:
raspil Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2012   Writer
i will have to get back to you on this. i am intrigued and must think more about it.
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:iconlucy-merriman:
Lucy-Merriman Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2012  Student General Artist
Definitely :) Take your time!
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