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Storytelling On The Brain

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 Leave a Comment

I've been writing about Presence on the blog for some time, trying to understand the power of the connection between actor and audience evolving in real time. I've been looking to neuroscience for at least a metaphorical grasp about what might be driving this unique pleasure, considering such ideas of Quantum Darwinism and Mirror Neurons, wondering what impact it might have on Casting Our Audiences and Thinking About Diversity.

Now Livia Blackburne on A Brain Scientist's Take On Writing looks at the impact of storytelling on the brains of both the teller and listeners. It supports some of the ideas I was exploring above, and furthers them with this fascinating discovery:

Some regions in the listener's brain actually predicted the speaker's activity, as if the listener was anticipating parts of the story. Later tests of listener comprehension support this. The more predictive activity in a listener’s brain, the better she scored on comprehension questions after the experiment.
The delight of anticipating the twists of a particular plot is something we've all felt; here, the research catches it actually happening in our brains, and reveals that those with the greatest anticipation - those on the edge of their neuro-seats - have the greatest comprehension when the story is done.

All my favorite plays have created these vivid expectations in my mind; and that special thrill of a plot's maneuvering - sometimes evading, sometimes rewarding - around those expectations is a unique thrill of theatre unfolding in real time, with our responses to those maneuvers feeding back to the teller and changing the telling.

Cool stuff to think about on a Tuesday afternoon...


  • Kay Richardson said:  

    This has intrigued me. Many thanks.