D.A.R.P.A. is the defense department in the States responsible for some of the craziest Cold War experiments. Some of them became worldwide successes such as the Internet and GPS while others failed miserably like Project Orion, the attempt to land men and women on Jupiter. Not every project was hi-tech. Some involved the use and dissemination of propaganda. Hence, the research on stories and how they work on the human brain.
On YouTube, I found an online seminar called Science Storytelling & the Power of Participation with Dr. Kendall Haven explaining the basics of his Story Influence Theory. Kendall worked on D.A.R.P.A's story research project and shared some eye-opening facts about stories and how they work on our brain. The results are a little shocking.
Your Prehistoric Brain
When we were a young species, a very young species, we had to find ways to make due without writing. This task wasn't easy as we probably had a lot of information to process just like we do today. But the job had to be done and if humans can do anything, it is adapt and find work-arounds. One such work-around is the storytelling brain, the innate capacity to turn life events into story so that we can remember it better. This cool adaptation might sound amazing (and, not to mention explain a lot of what goes on today in our crazy world) but also has some drawbacks. If, as humans, we see everything as a kind of story, we will have the tendency to leave out pertinent details to fit our prescribed narrative line. Put bluntly, we humans are bound to have a built-in bias that will depend heavily on which story-angle we choose to take. Kendall calls this part of the brain the Neural Story Net (NSN). Cool, huh? Maybe. Maybe not.
The Make Sense Protocol
As we can see, our storytelling brains don't necessarily mean to tell the truth. In fact, sometimes the complete opposite can happen. A neural process called The Make Sense Protocol is primarily responsible for this because it will inevitable decode then recode life according to which story we want to tell about what actually happened. If some part of this event doesn't make sense according to this narrative line, it will be left out. Hence, the built-in bias, mentioned earlier. This protocol is responsible for creating a story that is palpable to how the individual experienced the event. In other words, we retell the events in our mind along our preconceived notions and rules that make sense to us.
Four Principles of Storytelling
Once D.A.R.P.A. understood how the prehistoric brain worked via a storytelling format, they could uncover which principles governed its basic processes. Kendal Haven reported four: Engagement, Attention, Transportation and Relevance. Each of these principles determine whether the story will work on the brain or whether the individual will be drawn into a certain line of thinking. D.A.R.P.A. must have been interested in this since it has so much to do with propaganda, a big business in the Cold War days. Engage them with a relevant topic so that they get transported into the story and lose sight of everything else. Do this and your story will work.
D.A.R.P.A. discovered stories sometime in the fifties as a way to help us understand how propaganda works on the mind. What they discovered was a little shocking: We see the world in the form of stories and can't help it. This storytelling principles falls along for main principles that up in everything from movies, propaganda to ancient-old fairy tales. Our biases shape how we tell the story of the world back to ourselves. As humans, we're simply not made to think critically, that's a skill that needs to be learned.
Take any of these results and apply it to any story that enter your world. Your political candidate uses these principles as does your church, school and government. The use of storytelling is a powerful tool to master the behaviour of an individual as well as the billions of masses in the Planet Earth.