The Chemistry of Stories That Bind Us

The power of story-telling and the impact it has on our lives is undeniable.

From ancient cavemen history where blood, charcoal, and ochre communicated before language was born, humans expressed their experiences in stories. Our history abounds with legends and myths, and it seems that nothing much has changed today.

Instead of sitting around a campfire, we bask in the electronic glow of the internet where social media, news links, and gossip is conveyed moment by fractured moment. There is an addictive quality amongst our tribes where we hanker after news, views and more information. We only have to observe the modern obsession with Facebook, and the like, to realise the growing drug-like dependency, in online offerings to realise there’s something else at play. So, what’s going on?

What is it that holds us and keeps us glued to our devices and pulls us together and apart from others? The polarising of information is addictive, them and us, divided along political and religious lines which has become more pronounced over recent years. Rest assured, it’s not merely the stories exchanged amongst members of specific ethnic, political or religious groups. It goes a whole lot deeper.

Recent research shows that when we watch a movie, read a book or engage online with podcasts, social media or listening, our human brain lights up in the feel-good and primal areas. This response surprised and encouraged researchers to take blood tests from participants and see what chemicals the brain was unleashing on unsuspecting humans. The results were intriguing.

When people listen or read stories of any kind, including, sometimes, destructive gossip on social media, their brains release a series of feel-good hormones. Three hormones were identified; Dopamine, the hormone that gives people a sense of well-being, contentment and promotes calm acceptance, Serotonin, the anti-depressant uptake hormone often experienced after exercise, and Oxytocin, the bonding hormone that floods the bodies of mothers and babies during childbirth. This hormone is active in bonding lovers and parents to their children, and it appears, human tribes, that share the same stories too. We are, in fact, connected by our chemistry.

It’s more than our culture and language that binds us. It is the hormones flooding our bloodstreams when we participate in collective story-telling. Let’s go back to the primitive Neanderthal times of our pre-existence. We need to be bonded, in any way possible, to ensure our tribe’s survival. Stories, legends, myths, gossip, and in more contemporary times, social media and cyberspace allow us to connect and remain addicted to the positive, feel-good hormones and stay closely connected to our cohort.

It will come as no surprise then, that humans are suffering from sleep deprivation at an alarming rate. Scientific research has confirmed that the glowing blue light from smartphones and computer devices breaks down the sleep hormone, melatonin in our brains, affecting our essential biological ability to function. After all, sleep deprivation has been a form of torture throughout centuries of historical conflict. So, the message is, break from your addiction and turn those devices off at least two hours before bedtime, to let your primitive biological human brain do what it’s supposed to, and support your ability to sleep.

Written by New Zealand author, Nicky Webber.

New Zealand Author
Nicky Webber.