Good Stories Really Do Get Inside Your Head

This past year, Princeton neuro-scientist Lauren Silbert put herself in an fMRI and recorded her neural patterns while she recounted a VIVID STORY from her personal experience. Then she put volunteers in the fMRI, played back the story over headphones, and recorded the neural activity of the LISTENERS.

Guess what…  The neural activity of the HEARERS started to look like the neural activity of the storyteller.

Even more remarkable, the listener’s brain activity started to LIGHT UP as their anticipation grew during the story. “Key brain regions  lit up before her words even came out, suggesting anticipation of what she would say next.” Said Silbert, it appears that “the more you anticipate someone, the more you’re able to enter their space.”

Of course, those of us who love a good story, intuitively knew about this. What this research does is HIGHLIGHT THE IMPORTANCE of “telling stories” in our teaching and preaching, -rather than lecturing, …because that’s the way God built us, — for story.

Dr. Silberts research helps explain the power of story-telling multimedia, as well.  “Telling the story” is a principle I apply in my software design, as well as, in my sermons and teaching opportunities. (Yet many preachers are ‘boring’ because they just talk, talk talk, –instead of taking us on a journey. Such a waste.)

For example, during the design of our new Faith Through the Roof CD, I created a story video that turns on in the middle of the 3d style game where you are trying to carry the man up on the roof to see Jesus. I also created a video song (a story in lyrics) at the end of the game.  Rather than add more “gamey-ness” at these two critical points in the teaching, I wanted to engage the kid’s brains with story, audio and visuals. I wanted them to sit back from the game and engage at the LISTENING and LOOKING level. So rather than keep having the player carry the man to see Jesus,  Peter takes over the game for about 3 minutes to complete the telling story of the man let down through the roof.  (

After the man is healed, Jesus calls you to jump down and speak to him. How’s that for anticipation! Games and good software do this. They create a sense of “what’s next!”

The story of the man let down through the roof is a classic example of how JESUS HIMSELF utilized the tool of anticipation with his audience. He sees that the crowd is dismayed at the interuption and idea of forgiving the man’s unforgiveable sins, and then sets them up with anticipation:  “which is easy to say, your sins are forgiven? or Rise Up and Walk?”   You can almost hear the room come to a halt. Then he delivers the punch line: “Rise up and Walk.”

While we were creating the narration and images for the story video that pops up in the game, I decided to add a musical score to the story. MOST good movies and dramas utilize music to set the mood and heighten the listener’s emotional and anticipatory experience. We do that in a lot of our software too.  It’s not filler. It’s about helping the student’s brain get into that memorable focal state. (Doing sound effects in storytelling and preaching can operate the same way.)

In preaching, it means telling more stories, and better stories, in more dramatic fashion (not over-wrought drama, but “well-told” dramatic).

In our teaching it means reading from the Bible with excitement, rather than flatness, and stopping at key points to ask “What do you think will happen next?”   ie… create anticipation. It means sometimes coming into your classed dressed as a disciple, and having quickie costumes for your readers. It means getting out of your chairs and adding a little acting to the scripture reading with the kids.

When you teach and preach like that, and when you use media that does it too, you’re helping your listeners connect, learn, and remember. 

…And you’re also imitating the Great Teacher himself.

Happy New Year everybody!

<>< Neil

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2 Responses to Good Stories Really Do Get Inside Your Head

  1. Kathy says:

    I agree, the best learning is see, hear and do.
    Music absolutely moves the soul. A show is always better then just reading.
    Good idea but I have a class of maybe 4 on occasion. Are you saying I’d have to know how to invent these scenarios on the puter?

  2. Neil says:

    Hi Kathy, thx for your response. The brain research quoted above also says “telling a story” is important. Software programs like Faith through the Roof tell an engaging story through interactivity and media. It’s “storytelling” built into the software. And because you “only” have 4 students, it sure makes your equipment needs easier to manage, and your software requirements easier to afford than a larger class.

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