Story is the connective tissue between humans. Each of us has a story regardless of the level of trauma, joy, favor or any number of other emotions we have experienced. We have been created with a desire (and need) for authentic community, which is only enabled by sharing our stories openly and honestly.

“When you take away someone’s story, you take away the very essence of who they are.”

Joel McKerrow on The Deep Place Podcast 

But what is it about story that brings us together?

In recent years, neuroscientists have made incredible discoveries about the way the brain reacts to story. Researcher Paul Zak has identified a neurochemical called oxytocin, which is released by the brain as we consume stories. Zak’s team has gone as far as testing stories to see how much they can manipulate humans to support a cause. 

“We have identified oxytocin as the neurochemical responsible for empathy and narrative transportation. My lab pioneered the behavioral study of oxytocin and has proven that when the brain synthesizes oxytocin, people are more trustworthy, generous, charitable, and compassionate. I have dubbed oxytocin the “moral molecule,” and others call it the love hormone. What we know is that oxytocin makes us more sensitive to social cues around us. In many situations, social cues motivate us to engage to help others, particularly if the other person seems to need our help.”

“How Stories Change the Brain” by Paul Zak

In 2013, Zak’s team conducted a study where they supplied participants with synthetic oxytocin while watching PSAs that solicit charitable donations. The experiment resulted in a serious generosity: the participants who received oxytocin donated 56% more money to 57% more causes compared to those given a placebo. 

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So what generates oxytocin? A simple four-word formula. More on that here.