Tell a good story and you’ll connect with people at a fundamental level. That’s because, as Jonathan Gottschall explains in his book, The Storytelling Animal, stories are part of what makes us human.

Experimental study of apparent behaviour, Fritz Heider & Marianne Simmel, 1944.

Gottschall points to two ideas that we found particularly relevant to copywriting: that humans can’t help creating stories, and that stories have the power to change us.

We’re compelled to create stories

You can try the first idea out for yourself by watching the video above, created by psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel in 1944. What do you see?

Is it just a lot of shapes moving around, or does your mind start to develop a story? Maybe you cast the small triangle as the hero, thwarting his rival the large triangle and winning the love of the small circle.

Gottschall reports that in Heider and Simmel’s original experiment, only 3 out of 114 people gave a rational explanation – that it was just an animation of geometric shapes. All the others created stories based on what they'd seen.

This is why storytelling is such a fundamental part of branding and marketing. People want to hear a good story. They’re just waiting for you to tell it to them.

Stories change us

The second idea we found really interesting in Gottschall’s book was that ‘studies have shown that people’s deepest moral beliefs and values are modified by the fiction they consume’. In other words, stories have the power to change who we are.

Gottschall quotes psychologists Melanie Green and Timothy Brock, whose research ‘shows that the more absorbed readers are in a story, the more the story changes them’. Readers adopt the values the story conveys, and they’re also less likely to detect inaccuracies in the story.

So if you're trying to change someone’s mind (whether you want them to buy your product or behave in a more sustainable way), the message from the psychologists is clear: tell them a great story.

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