The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Cinnamon. Velvet. Kick. And more examples of how to seize the brain.

If you love fiction as I do, you know that at its finest, it has a delicious quality. Good words remind me of dark chocolate or lavender or cinnamon – worth savoring.

Dark chocolate. Lavender. Cinnamon. How did you react to those words? I bet they set off your olfactory cortex. What if I said, “He had leathery hands” or, “The singer had a velvet voice.” That would trigger your sensory cortex.

Now, if I had said good words are eloquent and affecting, or that “He had strong hands” and the “Singer had a pleasing voice,” you would not have any of those reactions.

Why? Certain narratives activate the parts of our brain responsible for smell or the sense of touch or motion. Others do not.

This idea and these examples (with the exception of dark chocolate, my own) are from Annie Murphy Paul, who wrote in the Sunday New York Times about “Your Brain on Fiction.” It turns out neuroscientists have discovered that words describing smell or texture or motion trigger those parts of the brain as if we were encountering those experiences in real life.

As she writes: “Fiction – with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions – offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.”

That is why I love to read.

Scientists see “substantial overlap in the brain networks used to understand stories and the networks used to navigate interactions with other individuals – in particular, interactions in which we’re trying to figure out the thoughts and feelings of others… [or] ‘theory of mind’… it hones our real-life social skills.”

And it also helps us empathize with others. Which brings me to why this post matters. A good story, told vividly, makes us bigger and compels us to care.

Choose your words well and create a narrative that matters. You’ll light up brains and open hearts.

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About This Blog
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Caryn Stein
Vice President, Communications and Content, Network for Good

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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