Point of view: Telling stories

Tham Khai Meng
Ogilvy & Mather

Along with sex, shopping and watching sport, storytelling is one of the world's most popular recreational activities. Man has been hard at it for 10,000 years or so, without much sign of letting up. All over the world, everyone loves stories, especially advertising folks. Since telling stories is the heart of what we do, shouldn't we understand what they are? And why are they so popular?

The latest neurological research shows that man is essentially the Storytelling Ape. Evolution has hard wired us to tell stories, and we use them to navigate the world. Put someone in a MRI scanner and watch what happens when you tell them a story: you will see sections of the brain light up with pleasure.

It's a hotly debated topic why this is so, but one thing seems fairly certain: stories help us make sense of a complex reality. People tell stories to make sense of the world. If you consider the control centre inside your head, at any given moment it is a centre of chaos with thousands of different pieces of sensory data coming in. But telling a story, putting the various pieces of data into a narrative sequence gives shape and meaning to the chaos. We do it every moment of our waking lives, and of course while we are asleep too.