Monday, October 20, 2008

A Good Yarn

It is generally known and accepted that everyone loves a good story specially when it told well but this article discusses the science behind our love for a good yarn. Here is how Raymond A. Mar, assistant professor of psychology at York University in Toronto defines a good story :

But the best stories—those retold through generations and translated into other languages—do more than simply present a believable picture. These tales captivate their audience, whose emotions can be inextricably tied to those of the story’s characters. Such immersion is a state psychologists call “narrative transport.”

A lot of coming of age or otherwise autobiographical stories would be appealing and memorable for reasons the professor describes. Translated to my own little world, that may have something to do with J's vociferous rejection of stories with characters she either cannot relate to or with characters who do and say things she finds unacceptable. The "narrative transport" just does not happen. The question of a "believable picture" is critical to her as well. That eliminates most fairy tales and Harry Potter like fantasies. Oddly, science fiction is quite acceptable - maybe because her generation is growing up around so much change, churn and innovation in technology. What she had not seen a couple of years ago, is now part of her daily life.

Anthropologists note that storytelling could have also persisted in human culture because it promotes social cohesion among groups and serves as a valuable method to pass on knowledge to future generations. But some psychologists are starting to believe that stories have an important effect on individuals as well—the imaginary world may serve as a proving ground for vital social skills.

This need is met by a slew of coping and survival themed books when the experience is shared like a story instead of taking the form of wisdom that is preached to the reader from on high. Might explain why I hate self-help book but like first person accounts by those who have been through a challenging life situation and come out of it better, stronger and wiser. They have valuable stories to tell - modern day parables that the rest of us can learn from.

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