We read with keen interest Medical Press’ recent commentary on new brain research by USC scientists, which finds there is something universal about what occurs in the brain when it processes stories.
The blog, published on the Medical Press website, explains: “In what appears to be a first for neuroscience, USC researchers have found patterns of brain activation when people find meaning in stories, regardless of their language.”
The USC study, published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, opens up the possibility that exposure to narrative storytelling can have a widespread effect on triggering better self-awareness and empathy for others, regardless of the language or origin of the person being exposed to it.
Now for the science part…
The researchers sorted through more than 20 million blog posts of personal stories using software developed at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. The posts were narrowed down to 40 stories about personal topics such as divorce or telling a lie.
They were then translated into Mandarin Chinese and Farsi, and read by a total of 90 American, Chinese and Iranian participants in their native language while their brains were scanned by MRI. The participants also answered general questions about the stories while being scanned.
Using state-of-the-art machine learning and text-analysis techniques, and an analysis involving over 44 billion classifications, the researchers were able to “reverse engineer” the data from these brain scans to determine the story the reader was processing in each of the three languages. In effect, the neuroscientists were able to read the participants’ minds as they were reading.
In the case of each language, reading each story resulted in unique patterns of activations in the “default mode network” of the brain. This network engages interconnected brain regions such as the medial prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex, the inferior parietal lobe, the lateral temporal cortex and hippocampal formation.
The default mode network was originally thought to be a sort of autopilot for the brain when it was at rest and shown only to be active when someone is not engaged in externally directed thinking.
Continued studies, including this one, suggest that the default mode network actually is working behind the scenes while the mind is ostensibly at rest to continually find meaning in narrative, serving an autobiographical memory retrieval function that influences our cognition related to the past, the future, ourselves and our relationship to others.
Storytelling is powerful – perhaps more powerful than we knew – and the effect a narrative has on the human brain is both significant and lasting. As we see it, that’s how the best stories change the world.
In business, it’s the best stories that influence the decisions, the direction and the profit you make – and that’s why mHub was born.
mHub is a smart mobile hub for business that lets you tell your best story. It connects people with the right information to improve business performance, grow sales and personalise customer service.