At any moment in time there are more than twenty different distractions fighting for your audience’s attention. Advertisements are everywhere trying to pull our attention to endorse a certain product or service, and businesses pay millions of dollars to get in front of you. We live in a generation of facebook, twitter, ebooks, youtube, etc., but maybe the true key in getting people’s attention requires going back to the roots of communication and interest: storytelling.

Storytelling has been a part of our culture since the beginning of time and continues to be a strong force in capturing people’s attention in a unique way. There is definitely an overwhelming response of support in saying that storytelling is a great medium to place information in a creative way but more importantly to capture people’s interests.

One of the places where storytelling has an obvious home is in the hearts and mind of children. And more specifically, Dr. Seuss. I mean, who doesn’t love Dr. Seuss? I distinctly remember that when I was a young child my grandfather came to visit my parents and he gave me the dr. Seuss book “Ten Apples Up on Top.” A lion, a tiger, and a dog compete with one another to see who can have the most apples on their head.

Talking animals and apples. What could be better? And that doesn’t apply to only the mindset of five year old. I remember one of my favorite types of stories was the “choose your own adventure” story. You were not only captivated by the story you were in, you were choosing and making your own story. That personable and self-determining effect of stories really appealed to me. And I’m sure many of those reading can agree.

When we read stories we feel compelled to continue them and they place something in us that increases our interest. When we read certain things, different parts of our brain are used that appeal to whatever sense we may be feeling. And as new advances in neurosciences continually emerge, we are learning more and more about how stories do indeed stimulate the brain. One interesting fact is that the brain cannot really distinguish between reading about an experience and actually experiencing something. As wild as it may seem to say that reading something is same as experiencing it, if you think about it both are quite sensory filled experiences.

We are beings that have constant social dependency with one another. That is why stories have such a potent effect on us. With recent advances of science, we can now pinpoint specific effects as to why storytelling has such an overwhelming power over us. One of the chemical effects that we can pinpoint as being relevant to storytelling is oxytocin, which is often cited as the “love hormone.” This hormone is credited as creating empathy within us and since oxytocin has been associated with storytelling, we can assume that people generate a sense of involvement and care when listening to a story. So much so, that a study has shown that due to the production of oxytocin, a hormone linked with empathy, people seemed to become more generous.

For example, in this study, participants were shown a video about the story of a boy with a terminal illness and his father. At the end of the video, the participants were given the option to donate. By using blood tests to reveal the presence of oxytocin and a comparison test of showing a less endearing story to other participants, the survey was able to conclude that oxytocin and the willingness to donate were heavily connected. To see this concept being used in marketing, we can look to the organization: Charity Water. Right off the bat on the home page of the website there are videos, short anecdotes, and constant addresses to the reader, which invokes a sense of involvement that comes out of storytelling. Below is a sample of Charity Water’s interactive display to make its donators feel truly involved in the process.

The main thing about stories is that they are centered on delivery. It doesn’t matter what the information is, what is truly important is how the information is delivered. What people read heavily affect their demeanor towards the material. Two different people may be reading about the same information but one may be reading the information as pure fact while the other is reading the information as a story. Is it difficult to imagine which reader was more captured by the information?

Take for instance these two statements:

  1. John Montagu invented the “sandwich.”
  2. In 1748, the British politician and aristocrat John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, spent a lot of his free time playing cards. He greatly enjoyed eating a snack while still keeping one hand free for the cards. So he came up with the idea to eat beef between slices of toast, which would allow him to finally eat and play cards at the same time. Eating his newly invented “sandwich,” the name for two slices of bread with meat in between, became one of the most popular meal inventions in the western world.

Obviously it’s easy to tell which statement is the clear winner in capturing a reader’s attention. There is so much science that now clarifies the connection between the brain and reading. The brain has such an interesting way of interpreting everything that it perceives. A study from Neuroimage had 24 people to partake in a study to see how words would affect the olfactory part of the brain. 12 people listened to odor related words and the other 12 people listened to neutral words. The results ended up showing that there was a clear indication through MRI scanning that the odor related words indeed sparked up a reaction in the olfactory sense of the brain. For instance, when we hear the words “velvet voice” compared to “pleasing voice,” we automatically have a greater visual with the word velvet and our minds are put to greater work in painting the picture. With that it’s easy to see why companies try and work so hard to get their display to achieve what truly matters: getting the people’s attention. Look at this photography editing sight It truly captures what would draw people in by its representative images, attention to detail, and focus on what would be appealing.

The fact of the matter is that stories have captured us when we are kids and they capture us now. We might not see stories so clearly in our daily lives, but it is easy to see when people are commonly interested and enamored by a certain topic because that topic has come by the way of storytelling. And realizing how captivating and utilizing storytelling can be, the interpretive uses for it are truly limitless. Many outlets have already been explored to utilize the method of storytelling to capture people everywhere. But among those, quizzes stand out as not only an innovative way to display storytelling but also still young in development. Online quizzes tell a story in a short period of time through the web, make your own to witness the true power of stories!