Good strong stories, as we all know, transport us to other people’s worlds. So, when we’re reading fiction, even though we know the people we’re reading about aren’t real, if the story has a successful dramatic arc we’ll empathise with those imaginary people and their difficulties as if they were real. And now Paul J Zak, Director of the Centre for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California, has worked out, neurologically-speaking, why we do this:
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” … others call it the love hormone. What we know is that oxytocin makes us more sensitive to social cues … . In many situations, social cues motivate us to engage [with] others, particularly if the other person seems to need our help.
Zak’s video also shows what prompts charitable giving which is less germaine to storytelling, but still makes the point about stories and the changes they cause in our brains and so in our behaviour:
And the thing I would love to have invented in a parallel universe where time is infinite and all things are possible is Sam Jordison‘s Not the Booker Prize: so many wonderful books that didn’t make that other prize are listed here. If you read the list before 15 August you’ll see the longlist (actually you can still see it). After that, you’ll see the shortlist. Further developments will be announced by Sam Jordison in the Guardian from time to time, including reviews of the six shortlisted books and there’ll be a final vote on 17 October.