Storytelling boosts our brains

Story invention

Look at this picture for a few seconds. What’s the story you imagine? Now re-imagine it, mentally move and scale the elements in the image around. How can your story change?  Well done - you have just exercised your imagination and activated 12 areas in your brain at the same time.

According to studies by cognitive scientists 12 "regions of interest" seem to be involved in manipulating imaginary shapes and using our imagination. It seems rather than a single area in the brain being responsible for imagining or manipulating, there are lots of areas that start working together in concert when we combine thinking and image making. In a study from scientists at Dartmouth College the lead author Alex Schlegel, a PhD student in cognitive neuroscience at Dartmouth College, tells Popular Science. "We can learn new things, we can think of new concepts, seeing things from different perspectives - a lot of this has to do with a vibrant mental space, kind of a mental playground."

Creating a mental playground is something we build in our children’s brains when we read to them. It is one of the many benefits of storytelling that supports the idea of reading a book at bedtime to your child. When we take time to share - stories and words and images we are allowing a child to paint uniquely personal and memorable pictures in their brain. It is an activity that builds up their creatively differently from watching a film.  

Taking time to read and create stories with children opens up neurological pathways and the skills of creation. Reading to a child at bedtime is bonding and nurturing. It builds a fertile imagination and a mental ease to start to use the information they learn by processing it into elaborate, vivid fantasies.

The art of Storytelling started with caveman pictures, and no doubt survival tales passed along to children about the woolly mammoth. Today, storytelling is still a survival skill and a significant influence on people, years after their ‘book at bedtime’. Novel writers and scientists are often inspired by the words of the stories they heard and learned in their infancy and early years. And their ability to imagine and re-imagine a scenario or event becomes their lifetime skill.

David Herman and Manuel Kent, TV producers, said: “Imagination is NOT WHAT we think, IT’S HOW we think,” “imagination is located between our perception and our understanding.”

Each of us is brought up in a language. We learn words and these words mean this or that. Words form phrases, and phrases form stories. Stories are an engaging tool for reasoning an idea. The more we use our imagination enables more confidence and an ability to direct a story and thought to follow.

Albert Einstein stated:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” and he added: “Any knowledge we have, comes from something we previously imagined. Knowledge could be great; imagination is greater.”

Storytelling boosts our brains. Reading books to children helps them (and us) see details not with our eyes, but through our imagination. The characters of the story; the way they dress, the colours of their clothes, the colour of their eyes and hair, their figures, tall or short, slim or heavy set, expressions on their faces. The animals, the shapes, the settings, the size of rooms, colour of the valleys, the height of the mountains, the blues of the seas and calms of the rivers. We can not only see but also even feel through our imagination - the forces of the hurricanes, the sounds of the wind and the crushing of the waves against the rocks.

We can give all of this for free to our children at bedtime when we take time to read a story together. Learn more about how to help your child at Scribeasy.

Amanda Duncan