Science: Reading a story is like living it

by guest blogger Andrew Rogers

Popular website Lifehacker has published a piece that provides good encouragement and support for effective fundraising (The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains).

It all comes down to the way our brains are wired. Widrich writes:

It’s in fact quite simple. If we listen to a powerpoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part in the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that’s it, nothing else happens.

When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.

That’s pretty amazing: Our brains fire in the same way whether we’re reading a story or living the experience ourselves. Widrich concludes:

Anything you’ve experienced, you can get others to experience the same. Or at least, get their brain areas that you’ve activated that way, active too.

To me, this validates one of the many counterintuitive rules of good fundraising: It’s often better to tell an unfinished story than one with a happy ending. Vividly creating for the reader the mental experience of battling cancer, suffering persecution, or walking miles for fresh water, then showing her that that it is day-to-day reality for the people you’re wanting to help … it’s hard to beat that as a powerful motivator for giving.


Comments

2 responses to “Science: Reading a story is like living it”

  1. Great write-up. Love it.
    This jives with the psychological principles behind sales/persuasion about how people are much more likely to get on board if they feel like a solution to a problem is THEIR idea, instead of one you’re introducing to them. In other words, if you can get someone to experience a problem in the world viscerally through great storytelling, they’ll be able experience and figure out the solution themselves, and their commitment will be much stronger.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great write-up. Love it.
    This jives with the psychological principles behind sales/persuasion about how people are much more likely to get on board if they feel like a solution to a problem is THEIR idea, instead of one you’re introducing to them. In other words, if you can get someone to experience a problem in the world viscerally through great storytelling, they’ll be able experience and figure out the solution themselves, and their commitment will be much stronger.
    Thanks for sharing!

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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