Your Brain on Story

So, that story you used to tell about how mean your sister's been acting, how cool your boyfriend is, how your teacher hates you?

All the ways we talk about our lives to ourselves and others say something important about the way we experience the world around us.

Stories are clues to how we experience life. Teens, especially, give stories the power to shape and reshape their identities. They tap into a deep universal need for understanding and meaning.

Science is uncovering the biology of how we identify ourselves and our place in the world by measuring the brain's response to stories. Our brain is constantly changing—brain plasticity is what neuroscientists call it—in response to everything we learn (or don't), everything that happens in our lives, every decision we make, and every action we undertake.

The Biology of Who Am I?

Neuroscientists want to find out how that happens and what it means to our health and well-being. So they're measuring how we remember events and facts learned through fact-based learning (memorization, rote learning, studying facts) vs. story-based learning. And story can mean anything from gossip in the school cafeteria to your reaction to the latest Star Wars movie.

What they're finding is interesting. Stories engage the brain in multiple ways that are later filed into memory to help retain learning in ways that memorizing, say, a list of facts does not. Stories can also increase empathy, as Paul Zak's research has shown.

Nowhere is the impulse toward identity-building stronger than among teens, whose drive to create a sense of identity outside the family and among peers is now seen to be a biological—and perhaps even evolutionary—imperative.

Dr. Daniel Siegel, author of Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, writes, "The many revolutionary ways of interpreting and shaping our world—in music and art and in the digital age—emerge during the emotionally vibrant, socially connected, novelty-seeking adolescent period. Adolescence is a golden age for innovation because it is during this time of growth and change that the brain's developmental shifts... encourage creative thought and drive adolescents to explore the world in new ways."

Not clear whether teens want teaching to be mixed in with their entertainment, but could learning be entertaining?

Edge of Yesterday celebrates this flowering of brain growth and creativity and, when joined with the purpose of storytelling as a window on how we experience life, provides the perfect platform to combine learning, exploration and revelation.