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The Science of Storytelling

Learn how storytelling changes our brain chemistry and inspires action

We believe in the power of charities, social enterprises and other for-purpose organisations to improve the lives of individuals and communities in Australia and around the world. It’s not by chance that we have chosen storytelling as our way of supporting these organisations to do their great work. There’s scientific proof that storytelling, done well, can change the way we think, feel and act.

The Study

A Neuroscientist, Dr Paul Zak, studied how storytelling can cause chemical reactions in the brain that increase memory, empathy and understanding, and inspire action.
In his study a group of people watched a story about a 2-year-old boy who is dying of brain cancer, told through the experience of his father.
The story elicited two emotions from the group – distress and empathy, which correlated with two neurochemicals – cortisol and oxytocin.
Cortisol is released when you’re distressed and causes you to be highly attentive and more likely to remember what you’ve seen.
Oxytocin is the ‘love’ neurochemical and increases empathy and understanding.

Inspiring action

After watching the video the people were given a chance to donate to a charity that supports children with a terminal illness. The levels of cortisol and oxytocin in their brain, were directly correlated with the amount of money the person would donate.

Donating is only one example of a ‘cooperative’ behaviour that a dramatic story can inspire. Viewers could be inspired to sign a petition, buy a product from a social enterprise, participate in a program, or volunteer for a cause.

Video storytelling has the power to change our behaviour, by changing our brain chemistry.

A note on statistics

We believe that facts and figures are important to describe the magnitude of an issue and for measuring your impact. But when it comes to inspiring action – lead with story.

Learn how you can use storytelling

Want to learn more? Download our Guide to Storytelling for Social Impact to see how you can use storytelling to create awareness about your impact, engage your supporters and influence real social change.

If you are working to make the world a better place, we would love to hear from you.

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