By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
There are strategies and techniques, and then there are fundamental bedrock principles of human communication. The use of story and narrative structure definitely falls in the later category, perhaps to a greater degree than we've previously thought. I've written before that stories can show us what's moral, fill gaps in evidence, and add the comfort of a familiar structure. But the appeal of storytelling may be even more primal than that. Based on some new work by Claremont neuroscientist Paul Zak, effectively described in a concise YouTube video, the story -- and, more specifically, story structure -- plays a direct and measurable chemical role in creating empathy. The research shows that two key neurochemicals are produced as we listen to some stories: cortisol, which is brought on by distress, and oxytocin, which promotes feelings of connectedness and empathy. The degree to which these chemicals are produced differentiates the stories that work from the stories that don't.
In trials, lawyers are competing to tell the better story, and that means arranging the evidence in a form that makes sense. But the advantages of story are not gained by simply sequencing and telling the events in order. Chronology isn't story. Instead, key elements need to be there. According to Zak's research, watching clips that contained a series of actions, but lacked the classic hallmarks of story structure did not lead to neurochemical changes and did not motivate action. In contrast, stories that contained those features -- eg., rising action, climax, and denouement -- did lead to brain chemistry changes and did motivate behavior changes. So how should litigators make sure they're telling a story and not just conveying a sequence? This post shares a bit more about Zak's results and how they ought to inform your trial stories.