Let me tell you a story. Today during lunch I did what I always do, I read an article by people who are supposed to be much smarter than I am. Surprisingly what I read explained my interactions with other people, especially when it comes to their disdain for data and preference for personal stories.
As I processed this article, I began to realize that there is a biological reason for why we prefer to believe the anecdotes our friends tell rather than cold, hard, facts. It turns out we humans are hardwired to prefer narrative.
Apparently a bunch of really smart scientist-people at Emory University did some tests and they discovered that hearing a story releases a chemical called oxytocin (don’t get excited, that’s different than oxycodone) and as it happens, this is the chemical released by breastfeeding mothers that illicits bonding.
“Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate School, found that reading simple, humanistic stories changes what is in our blood streams. Taking blood samples of subjects before and after reading a story about a father and his terminally ill son, Zak found their blood levels contained an increase of cortisol and also oxytocin after reading the story. Called the human bonding or empathy chemical, oxytocin is also released by breastfeeding mothers.” (1)
In addition, brain scans of subjects who listened to stories “showed heightened connectivity in a specific part of the brain. The left temporal cortex lit up, and not just for the period immediately following the reading assignments. The neural changes persisted for several days. This is why we sometimes say that a story was so powerful we just can’t seem to shake it.” There and a few other factors make us select narrative over data.
And thus sat and wondered whether I should just give up on charts, facts, evidence, and perhaps just start telling stories.