Storytelling on the Screen: Art or Science?


The objective of storytelling is to create an emotional connection between the viewers and a character on the screen. If the film’s protagonist happens to fall under the advertiser's target market, the film offers direct connection with potential consumers.

Successful stories are character-driven, since human brains best relate to characters. But such connections are most often psychological, as viewers’ focus is on the mental states, thoughts and feeling of the main character - protagonist - of the story. The research recently conducted at McMaster University unveils that storytelling activates ‘theory-of-mind’ brain network, affected by the intentions, motivations, beliefs, emotions and actions viewers see on the screen.

With attention being on the protagonist of the story, where do products come into play?

Aristotle said 2,300 years ago that plot is the most important aspect of narrative, while the character's identity is secondary. A character-driven story is an avenue to show the product as an element of the plot, despite being the second thought. A carefully devised story conceptualizes the product in a way that it enters long-term memory of the viewer, as the viewer starts to relate to the mental state of the protagonist.

And when we think we know just about everything about storytelling, new studies appear to redefine the links between neuroscience, storytelling and narrative psychology. In a recent study, neuroscientist Paul Zak showed that stories influenced brain to release the hormone ‘oxytocin’, associated with connectedness and empathy. Neuroscientist Uri Hanson discovered neural coupling between the teller and the listener that involved physical and biological activity of the same regions in their brains. Based on the largest brain study using 83,000 brain scans, neuroscientist Daniel Amen concluded that narratives and stories transformed our brains in course of our lifetime.

As science continues to explore the frontiers of narrative psychology and storytelling, we anticipate that increasing volume of new content would facilitate powerful connections with viewers through storytelling.

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