Wednesday, March 9, 2011

One Significant Thing About David Brooks' New Book Might Be That It Is A Work Of Fiction

It is called The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement.

Here is something he wrote in his blog recently

"Scientists and researchers in a range of spheres, from neuroscience to psychology to behavioral economics to sociology, are delving deeply into the human mind and giving us new information and insights into human nature.

In my book, “The Social Animal,” I try to harvest and celebrate a lot of their work."
He chose to write about these issues in a novel or story form, rather than as a factual analysis. Maybe he thought it would go over better that way.

Here is one article from Scientific American that suggests that human beings might be hard wired by evolution for story telling: The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn: Our love for telling tales reveals the workings of the mind. Below are some excerpts. I think it is interesting that the phrase "social animal" is used and that some of the research involves neuroscience, an issue that Brooks is interested in. Also, it mentions how advertising sometimes works better if it is told as a story (another intersection of economics and mythology).

"Popular tales do far more than entertain, however. Psychologists and neuroscientists have recently become fascinated by the human predilection for storytelling. Why does our brain seem to be wired to enjoy stories? And how do the emotional and cognitive effects of a narrative influence our beliefs and real-world decisions?

The answers to these questions seem to be rooted in our history as a social animal. We tell stories about other people and for other people. Stories help us to keep tabs on what is happening in our communities. The safe, imaginary world of a story may be a kind of training ground, where we can practice interacting with others and learn the customs and rules of society. And stories have a unique power to persuade and motivate, because they appeal to our emotions and capacity for empathy."

"Storytelling is one of the few human traits that are truly universal across culture and through all of known history. Anthropologists find evidence of folktales everywhere in ancient cultures, written in Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Chinese, Egyptian and Sumerian. People in societies of all types weave narratives, from oral storytellers in hunter-gatherer tribes to the millions of writers churning out books, television shows and movies. And when a characteristic behavior shows up in so many different societies, researchers pay attention: its roots may tell us something about our evolutionary past."

"Advertisers have long taken advantage of narrative persuasiveness by sprinkling likable characters or funny stories into their commercials. A 2007 study by marketing researcher Jennifer Edson Escalas of Vanderbilt University found that a test audience responded more positively to advertisements in narrative form as compared with straightforward ads that encouraged viewers to think about the arguments for a product. Similarly, Green co-authored a 2006 study that showed that labeling information as “fact” increased critical analysis, whereas labeling information as “fiction” had the opposite effect. Studies such as these suggest people accept ideas more readily when their minds are in story mode as opposed to when they are in an analytical mind-set."

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