The story about stories

May 17th, 2018
Article by
Bradley Elliott

100,000 years ago, humans developed language: stories were used to transfer knowledge from generation to generation.

64,000 years ago, cave paintings were used to create something of a more permanent record of knowledge. 5,700 years ago, writing was developed to literally carve these stories in stone. Around 100 years ago, broadcast radio station was started, and 90 years ago, the world’s first television station started transmitting pictures with sound.

31 years ago, on April 20, 1987, PowerPoint 1.0 for Macintosh was released. Microsoft bought the company 3 months later.

What form of communication do you think our brain is most adapted to? Stories, of course! Because of the unique way our brains engage with allegory.

The Beauty Of Brain Chemistry 

Stories intersect with our brains through emotion. These emotions are created by the release of powerful chemicals that override the controlling, logical and critical parts of our brain. The more emotionally invested you are in something, the less critical and objectively observant you become.

This is what you’ll discover by listening to a remarkable presentation called The Magical Science of Storytelling by David JP Phillips, CEO of Sweden’s largest training company, who speaks about the role of neurology, psychology and biology in how humans communicate and relate.

To understand how brain chemistry works, think about falling in love. At first blush everything your significant other does is magical. They are perfect. Without flaw. Science tells us that this period, on average, lasts about 13 months. That’s when the biochemistry stops. And why you are suddenly annoyed by everything about the person you once adored.

As Phillips explains in his talk, for 13 months your brain has been flooded with neurotransmitters and hormones hijacking your cortex, throwing your objectively observant skills out of the window. Once, your lover crunched an apple next to your ear and you found it sweet. Adorable even. 13 months later its just annoying. The shift is all brain chemistry.

Let’s Get Scientific 

Stories trigger the same kinds of chemicals. Phillips says these are the three main neurotransmitters that can be triggered by the right kind of stories.

1. Dopamine

Brain Effects:

Focus, Creativity, Motivation, Memory

How to elicit:

Tell a story with an element of mystery or suspense. Create cliffhangers (reversals) that happen along the way. Be exciting but relatable.

2. Oxytocin

Brain Effects:

Generosity, Trust, Bonding. Feel more human, more relaxed.

How to elicit:

Tell a story that creates empathy. It could be a sad story, ideally a personal one that links back to the storyteller in some way. (Good taste is important — you don’t want to be maudlin or come across as seeking sympathy — the key is empathy).

3. Endorphins


Happiness, optimism, creativity, relaxation, focus.

How to create:


Want Proof This Works In Marketing?

In 1990 Journalist Rob Walker wanted to know: “Is storytelling really the most powerful tool of all?” So, he tried an experiment. The reporter bought 200 objects from thrift stores, for an average price of $1.25. Then he called up 200 writers and authors, and asked them to be part of the ‘Significant Objects’ study. He assigned one object to each storyteller, and asked them to write a story about it.

When he re-listed the objects on eBay, with their story, they all showed a radical appreciation in price — some right up to over 6000%. He spent $129 buying the objects – a horse head, a Pez dispenser, a ceramic clown, a rope wood monkey and other things just as, well, um, interesting!

The online auction realised almost $8000, which was distributed among the authors and some nonprofit creative writing organizations. 100 of the stories have now been published in a book.

The Story Is That Stories Engage

Stories work. Use them well. But remember – with great power comes great responsibility.

Want to know more about stories and how they will work to grow your brand? Please speak to:

Charlie Mathews – Platinum Seed’s storyteller & #growthhacker


Brad ElliottPlatinum Seed’s Managing Director

Kirsten DewarPlatinum Seed’s Account Director

Key Take-Outs From This Story:

– You don’t have to be a bearded old person sitting in front of a fireplace to be a great storyteller. Everyone is a storyteller. It is innate. It is how we’re made. 

– Write down your stories when you think of them.

– Index your story collection. Which tales elicit laughter, empathy, suspense. Use your story collection appropriately for talks and meetings.

– Stories make everything – including branding & marketing – better.


Become a better storyteller by engaging with David JP Phillips’ great work on Facebook.

Follow Dave Duarte on Twitter. Duarte is an educator and perhaps one of SA’s top teachers on how brands can use story.

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