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Story Science

When you hear a good story, your brain aligns with the brain of the storyteller, reports Alison Gopnik in The Wall Street Journal (4/5/14). Uri Hasson, a Princeton neuroscientist, is using brain-imaging technology to “measure the relationship between the pattern in one person’s brain and the pattern in another’s.” He and his team “have been especially interested in how brains respond to stories.” They have found that different people’s brains respond in the same way to certain stories.

What’s more, the story listener’s brain also matches that of the storyteller. “The more tightly coupled the brains became, the more the listener said that he understood the story. This coupling effect disappeared if you scrambled the sentences in the story. Something about the literary coherence of the tale seemed to do the work.” These “results suggest that we lowly humans are actually as good at mind-melding as the Vulcans or the Borg. We just do it with stories.”

Uri’s work is part of a growing trend, as “the conversation between literature and science is becoming more sophisticated and interesting.” He was among other scientists and scholars presenting at a Stanford University workshop, in March. Other discussions centered on “why reading Harlequin romances may make you more empathetic, about how 10-year-olds create the fantastic fictional worlds called ‘paracosms‘ and about the subtle psychological inferences in the great Chinese novel, The Story of the Stone.”