Drawings in ancient caves show us how long we have used and relied upon stories as part of our existence. Aesop lived in the 500s B.C., but his stories were remembered for hundreds of years without a single shred of paper or other printed material. Oral storytelling was so powerful and people remembered Aesop’s tales so well that even 300 years later the stories were revered enough for mass production. Native American culture was rich in story telling. Stories were the way information was passed from elders and from one generation to another. Information about tradition, culture and the daily lessons of living. Inate objects served as a icon or reminder of a story. A rock, a kind of tree or a flower might be the trigger for a story to be told as part of a younger persons education. As educated as we think we are our brains still are geared for stories. neuroscience has proven that fact. As Gerry Spence has said: “our brains are hard wired for story telling.”
Our hunger for meaningful patterns translates into a hunger for a story. Our brains have a natural affinity not only for enjoying narratives and learning from them but also for creating them.
Jonathan Gottschall has written a book The Story telling Animal – how stories make us human. Here are some random notes from what I’ve read so far.
He points out that Samuel Taylor Coleridge declared that experiencing a story – any story – requires readers willing suspension of disbelief. When we hear the magical incantation “once upon a time” it seizes our attention. We go into a light trance with a story well told whether an oral story, a book or a movie.
Part of our story telling nature is that we have a drive to make sense out of everything. That is, to make the story complete. We know that most of our decisions are made subconsciously, but our conscious mind always has an explanation for what we do. One interesting study points this out. A research scientist Michael Gazzaniga and his colleagues did research in the area of split brain neuroscience involving people who’s right and left half of their brains and then disconnected. One thing that the studies reveal is that the left brain is a “know it all” and when it doesn’t know the answer to a question it will not admit it. The left brain is a relentless explainer and will fabricate story rather than admit not knowing.
The story telling mind will not tolerate uncertainty, randomness or coincidence. It is programed to have explanations. If the story telling mind cannot find meaningful patterns in the world, it will try to impose ones it creates. In short, the story telling mind is a factory that churns out true stories when it can, but will manufacture them when it can’t.
For example in a recent study psychologists asked a group of shoppers to choose among seven pairs of identically priced socks. After inspecting the socks and making their choices they were asked to give reasons for their choices. Shoppers explained their choices on the basis of differences in color, texture or stitching. In fact, all seven pairs of socks were identical. What the shoppers didn’t realize was that there was an actual pattern in their preferences.They tended to always chose socks on the right side of the display. But, they didn’t know that. Instead of simply admitting they had no idea why they chose the socks they did, the shoppers offered rational reasons for their choice.
Neuroscience has much to teach us as trial lawyers about how human beings make their decisions and in that regard, it is beyond dispute that story telling, after all these many centuries, is still a powerful means of influencing others. We need to learn to become master story tellers of our clients cases.