How Sharing Stories Boost Your Brain, Especially After 60

When we hear stories, our brains sync and
minds meld. We tend to think, “What’s in it for me?” so here’s some information
you may find helpful.

When Your Brain Hears, “Blah Blah Blah”

When you read or
listen to facts, or watch a PowerPoint presentation, the language processing
parts of your brain get activated. Your brain automatically decodes the words
into meaning. That’s it. Not much else happens.

A recent study by
the University of Maryland identified
the automatic process
our brain goes through when it picks up spoken

Listening to a Story

However, when you
hear a story, in addition to the language processing areas, parts which receive
and process sensory information like sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing,
and parts which activate motor movements and emotions, are also triggered.

In other words, our
brain is stimulated by stories in a way similar to stimulation by experience.

For example, if we hear a story about a sumptuous dinner, the part in our brain that processes taste starts to “taste” the food. When we hear how someone escapes from giant meat-eating lizards our motor cortex becomes active; we “experience” the act of running.

Depending on the
story, multiple regions in our brain work together to build rich images and
emotional responses. A story can light up our whole brain.

And We Sync Up

Not only that, the brains of the storyteller and the listener can synchronize, says Dr. Uri Hasson, a neuroscientist from Princeton University.

In an experiment
led by Hasson, a woman had to tell a story while in an MRI scanner, which
detected her brain activity by monitoring the blood flow to her brain. When the
blood flows to certain brain areas, they light up on a computer screen, showing
their engagement.

Meanwhile, a group
of volunteers listened to the stories through headphones, while their brains were
also scanned.

When the woman
spoke, the volunteers’ brains synchronized with hers. When she had activity in her
emotional brain region, the listeners did too. When her frontal cortex lit up,
so did theirs. Hasson found that the more the listeners understood the story,
the more their brain activity mirrored the storyteller’s.

Why Is Brain Sync Important?

After 60, unless we
go out of our way to maintain relationships or form new acquaintances, we could
become more isolated. By sharing stories, either with old friends or new, we
form connections.

We create a shared
understanding and increased intimacy. Sharing stories triggers brain chemicals
for social bonding. We gain trust. We form communities.

In an article in Psychology
, Lissa Rankin, M.D., said, “Every time you tell your story and
someone else who cares bears witness to it, you turn off the body’s stress
responses, flipping off toxic stress hormones like cortisol and flipping on
relaxation responses that release healing hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, and

She adds that “this
turns on the body’s innate self-repair mechanisms and functions as preventative
medicine – or treatment if you’re sick.”

Dr. Rankin also
believes that listening to stories relaxes your nervous system and helps heal
your mind of depression, anxiety, fear, anger, and feelings of disconnection.

But There’s More

A study by St.
Catherine’s University, “The Effects Of Storytelling On Happiness And
Resilience In Older Adults,” concluded that finding meaning and maintaining a
sense of purpose can be vital to aging well.

The study suggested
that telling stories about our lives helps us find moments of wholeness from our
past. We can use these states of grace to create meaning in our present, which
in turn, may create a more positive future.

When we learn to find
meaning from our life stories, we develop a perspective on aging. We view
ourselves as having progressed toward a mature wisdom. This brings an increase
in confidence and wellbeing.

Basically, sharing stories
is fun and is good for our brains.

How often do you
share stories? Who do you share your stories with? Have you noticed a bond with
your listeners? Please tell us about the experience in the comments below.