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The Storytelling Brain: How Neuroscience Stories Help Bridge the Gap between Research and Society



Active communication between researchers and society is necessary for the scientific community's involvement in developing science-based policies. This need is recognized by governmental and funding agencies that compel scientists to increase their public engagement and disseminate research findings in an accessible fashion. Storytelling techniques can help convey science by engaging people's imagination and emotions. Yet, many researchers are uncertain about how to approach scientific storytelling, or feel they lack the tools to undertake it. Here we explore some of the techniques intrinsic to crafting scientific narratives, as well as the reasons why scientific storytelling may be an optimal way of communicating research to nonspecialists. We also point out current communication gaps between science and society, particularly in the context of neurodiverse audiences and those that include neurological and psychiatric patients. Present shortcomings may turn into areas of synergy with the potential to link neuroscience education, research, and advocacy.
The Storytelling Brain: How Neuroscience Stories Help
Bridge the Gap between Research and Society
XSusana Martinez-Conde,
XRobert G. Alexander,
Deborah Blum,
Noah Britton,
Barbara K. Lipska,
XGregory J. Quirk,
Jamy Ian Swiss,
XRoel M. Willems,
and XStephen L. Macknik
State University of New York Downstate Health Sciences University, Brooklyn, New York 11203,
Knight Science Journalism Program, Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139,
Bunker Hill Community College, Boston, Massachusetts 02129,
National Institute of Mental
Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892,
University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, 00936 San Juan, Puerto Rico,
San Diego,
California 92116,
Centre for Language Studies and Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University, 6500 Nijmegen, The
Netherlands, and
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, 6525 XD Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Active communication between researchers and society is necessary for the scientific community’s involvement in developing science-
based policies. This need is recognized by governmental and funding agencies that compel scientists to increase their public engagement
and disseminate research findings in an accessible fashion. Storytelling techniques can help convey science by engaging people’s imag-
ination and emotions. Yet, many researchers are uncertain about how to approach scientific storytelling, or feel they lack the tools to
undertake it. Here we explore some of the techniques intrinsic to crafting scientific narratives, as well as the reasons why scientific
storytelling may be an optimal way of communicating research to nonspecialists. We also point out current communication gaps between
science and society, particularly in the context of neurodiverse audiences and those that include neurological and psychiatric patients.
Present shortcomings may turn into areas of synergy with the potential to link neuroscience education, research, and advocacy.
Key words: science communication; storytelling; science outreach; broader impact; science reporting; scientific journalism
Researchers worldwide have started to realize that communica-
tion with society is necessary for our involvement in developing
science-based policies. This newfound awareness culminated in
the 2017 March for Science, with an estimated global attendance
of more than one million people. Increasingly, institutional and
funding agency policies around the world, including the Royal
Society in the United Kingdom, the Centre National de la Recher-
che Scientifique in France, the Max Planck Society in Germany,
and the National Science Foundation in the United States, com-
pel scientists to engage more with the public, and to disseminate
research findings in an accessible fashion. Along similar lines,
there have been calls for scientists and journalists to join forces in
their common endeavor of unveiling objective facts and dispel-
ling misinformation. Yet, too often, researchers remain unsure of
how to approach science communication, feel they lack the tools
to undertake it, or receive mixed signals about the pros and cons
of public outreach (Martinez-Conde, 2016;Martinez-Conde et
al., 2016).
Part of the problem is insufficient or inadequate training in
the necessary skillset. As a result, many scientists assume a stan-
dard lecturer approach when attempting to engage broad audi-
ences, believing that, if the public is simply given more accessible
information, societal support for scientific and technological is-
sues will increase accordingly. However, the evidence indicates
that many barriers stand in the way of effective communication,
and that simply providing more information does not necessarily
change popular but incorrect views, as difficulties extend beyond
the complexity of the material (National Academies of Sciences,
Engineering and Medicine, 2017;Attanasio, 2018). Narrative sci-
ence storytelling may improve these efforts, helping to engage
listeners and lead policy change (Oliver and Cairney, 2019).
For purposes of discussion, it may be useful to define what
“narrative science storytelling” means in this context. According
to Webster’s dictionary, a narrative is a “discourse designed to
connect a series of happenings” (Webster, 1969). In narrative
storytelling, the narrator (or author) deliberately uses tech-
niques, including voice, character, suspense, and description, to
both connect the disparate elements involved and to create a
compelling and readable story (Chaitin, 2003). For professional
science writers, these narrative choices are aimed at making sci-
ence information inclusive, seeking to help build a larger and
more science literate audience (Blum, 2014). But those same
techniques may also be useful to scientists seeking to engage a
variety of audiences with their work.
The magician Michael Weber has affirmed that “whoever tells
the best story wins” (personal communication to J.I.S; sometimes
attributed to John Quincy Adams). Though Webber referred to
the performance of magic, asserting that magic that best incor-
Received June 24, 2019; revised Aug. 12, 2019; accepted Aug. 16, 2019.
This work was supported by the National Science Foundatoin Award 1439189 to S.M.-C. and Award 1734887 to
S.M.-C. and S.L.M., and The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research Vidi Grant 276-89-007 to R.W.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Correspondence should be addressed to Susana Martinez-Conde at
Copyright © 2019 the authors
The Journal of Neuroscience, October 16, 2019 39(42):8285– 8290 8285
porates “story” in an effective, engaging, meaningful fashion will
produce the most impactful result, it reflects an even broader
truth: that the best stories win in politics, in history, in criminal
justice, and even in arenas guided by a focus on objectively test-
able claims, namely, science.
Storytelling engages not just people’s intellect, but also their
feelings: a bald recitation of facts invariably lacks the impact (and
the enduring power) of a coherent narrative that awakens one’s
emotions. Indeed, when major discoveries generate little interest
among the lay public, there is likely a disconnect between the
scientific content and its emotional impact. Similarly, when large
sections of society are used to relying on misinformation and
biased data, pointing to scientific facts is not effective. Recent
research indicates that the truth or falsehood of a story does not
necessarily influence people’s reactions to it, or their appreciation
of the narrative (Hartung et al., 2017). Further, people choose
information sources with which they share personal biases and
beliefs (Higgins, 2016). Emotional engagement generated through
personal science narratives could help counteract these predispo-
sitions and generate the audience involvement that traditional
science communication has found lacking. Narrative improves
information processing, increasing recall of, and interest in, the
story (Glaser et al., 2009;Hong and Lin-Siegler, 2012). Moreover,
narrative increases recall of any scientific material presented in
the story (To¨pper et al., 2014).
Because storytellers have significant freedom to craft narra-
tives, they can effectively convey information about multivariate
components of the scientific endeavor, from the experimental
results themselves to the human efforts behind the studies. Sto-
ries about how scientists struggled either intellectually or in their
personal lives, and then overcame those struggles, have been
shown to improve not only the engagement of high school stu-
dents in science materials, but also boost academic performance
(Lin-Siegler et al., 2016). First-person narratives, in particular,
can make science personally relevant and encourage personal
investment in the topic (Downs, 2014).
Where research communication by and for academics typi-
cally downplays emotion, narrative storytelling can be used to
capture lay audiences and encourage excitement about impor-
tant scientific discoveries that may not have clear or immediate
applied value (Martinez-Conde and Macknik, 2017b). In a recent
study, embedding climate change information in an emotional
story structure affected proenvironmental donation behavior.
Thus, eliciting emotional arousal likely improves the odds that
listeners will not only engage with the material, but also act on it
as a result (Morris et al., 2019). Most researchers have at some
point experienced astonishment and wonder in connection with
research findings: there is every reason to believe that those same
discoveries can prompt similar emotions in nonspecialists. Evok-
ing emotions and wonder is sometimes achieved by not telling a
straightforward story. Research shows that a story with fictional
characters that act in a morally or emotionally ambiguous fashion
leads to a deeper (moral) evaluation in the reader or viewer (e.g.,
Eden et al., 2017). Thus, if one wants to evoke (moral) reflection
via a science narrative, it may be better to not make the moral
content of the narrative too straightforward, but rather more
ambiguous. This allows for more “moral rumination” (a term
coined by American psychologist John Dewey) in the reader than
a simple “from A to B” narrative.
Here we explore some of the techniques intrinsic to crafting
scientific narrative, as well as the reasons why scientific storytell-
ing may be an optimal way of communicating research discover-
ies to broad audiences. Importantly, whereas some scientists
believe that science communication means extreme simplifica-
tion, we argue instead for a narrative approach that does justice to
the science while also inspiring the general public. The sections
below are centered on the lectures and personal stories presented
during the 2019 Storytelling Session at the Society for Neurosci-
ence annual conference.
Our storytelling brains
The neuroscience of language has traditionally focused on under-
standing how the comprehension and production of words and
single sentences is implemented in our brains. Despite the impor-
tance of stories in our everyday lives, the neuroscience of narra-
tive has only recently begun to be an area of active research. An
interesting observation from this line of work is that regions that
are not traditionally thought to be part of a “language network”
in the brain become consistently activated when people listen to
narratives. Example areas are the precuneus/posterior cingulate
cortex, and mPFC. Indeed, in a relatively early observation, Ferstl
et al. (2008) made the case for an “extended language network,”
including these areas next to traditional temporal and inferior
frontal “language” regions. The posterior midline activations
have been linked to the larger time span of narratives (compared
with single sentences) (Lerner et al., 2011). The medial prefrontal
activations, in turn, have been related to the “mentalizing” as-
pects (Tamir et al., 2016) and immersive properties (Hsu et al.,
2014) of narratives.
An intriguing point to note is the overlap of the regions acti-
vated during narrative comprehension and the so-called default
mode network (Buckner and Carroll, 2007;Buckner et al., 2008;
Hassabis et al., 2014;Yuan et al., 2018). This overlap may be
meaningful in the sense that the “resting state” invites narrative
construction. The type or content of the mind wandering that
takes place during the resting state is unconstrained (and un-
known), but it is conceivable that it has narrative structure
(Jacobs and Willems, 2018). In extension to the view that the
default mode network is the brain’s “default” working mode, the
research on narrative comprehension suggests that this default
could be more closely related to narratives than appreciated so
far, a position that should interest neuroscientists interested in
resting state studies.
Is there another reason for researchers to be interested in nar-
ratives and their neural underpinnings? The interest for neuro-
scientists across disciplines is that narratives naturally contain
parts of cognition that are traditionally studied in artificial task
contexts, making narratives an ideal research tool to study cog-
nition in a more contextualized fashion (Willems and Jacobs,
2016). Indeed, recent work has started to use narratives to gain
better understanding of classical research topics in neuroscience.
Examples are language comprehension (Chow et al., 2014;Lopo-
polo et al., 2017), social understanding (Tamir et al., 2016), mem-
ory encoding (Milivojevic et al., 2016), and event segmentation
(Whitney et al., 2009;Zacks et al., 2010; for extensive discussion,
see Hasson et al., 2018). In the next section, we discuss mental
simulation as an example of a research topic that lends itself well
for study using narratives.
The stories playing in our mind’s theater
A research topic that lends itself perfectly for study within a nar-
rative context is mental simulation. Part of the pleasure that we
derive from engaging with narratives lies in their potential to
evoke mental images. We do not just process the words and sen-
tence on a page, but we can experience what happens in the story
in a vivid manner, by mentally simulating the content of a narra-
8286 J. Neurosci., October 16, 2019 39(42):8285– 8290 Martinez-Conde et al. The Storytelling Brain
tive. We can see what is being described, and even feel what the
characters feel, using our own minds to live the fiction world.
The laboratory of R.M.W. has empirically studied mental sim-
ulation during narrative understanding (Willems and Jacobs,
2016). Their work distinguishes between more “literal” and more
“social” mental simulations. The first are related to the concrete
actions or sensory descriptions that are part of a story (i.e., the
description of scenery or a main character that rushes through
traffic on her way home). The second refer to descriptions of
mental states, such as the thoughts, intentions, and feelings of
characters. Both types of simulations are important for building
up a mental story world.
R.M.W. and collaborators have measured brain activation
and eye movements during reading, followed by postreading self-
reports (on readers’ engagement with, and appreciation of, the
narratives). Their data provide an indication of how “sensitive” a
given reader may be to the different parts of the narrative that
allow for mental simulation. Recent results have revealed a criti-
cal effect of personal preference in the reader’s experience (some-
times even more so than the specifics of the story). For instance,
whereas changing the narrative perspective (from “she” to “I”)
does not appear to influence the mental simulations of readers
(Hartung et al., 2017), some readers do prefer sensorimotor sim-
ulations, and others prefer mental state simulations (Nijhof and
Willems, 2015).
Surprisingly, the researchers also found that action descrip-
tions speed up reading, whereas mental state descriptions slow
down reading (Mak and Willems, 2019). The discovery that ac-
tion descriptions speed up reading is counterintuitive, as imag-
ining actions is known to be time-consuming and suggests that
the mental images formed during reading are unlike those that we
deliberately form, for instance, when we relive an experience.
Future research will need to uncover the specifics of mental
simulation during narrative. What is important to note here is
that, by using narratives, the researchers were able to tap into
mental simulation as it unfolded naturally in readers. This re-
vealed individual differences that tend to go overlooked in more
constrained task settings.
Tell the truth, but tell it slant
In the current era of post-truth gloom, the quest for objective
truth has become more critical than ever. There have been calls
for scientists and journalists to join forces in this common en-
deavor and call out falsehoods, whether due to innocent mistakes
or frank attempts to mislead (Martinez-Conde and Macknik,
2017a). Indeed, science journalism programs, such as the Knight
Science Journalism Program at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, have already begun programs focused on integrity of
story and detailed fact-checking of information (Borel et al.,
2018). This echoes the basic premise of the scientific method,
which teaches us that we only attain truth by stubbornly stripping
away the misinformation that stands in its way (Martinez-Conde
and Macknik, 2017a). Accuracy is essential in even the best nar-
rative, which draws its power from the truths that underlie the
D.B., a newspaper science journalist and Pulitzer prize win-
ner, explains that her storytelling is firmly grounded in scientific
“‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant, success in circuit lies,’
once wrote the great 19th century American poet Emily
Dickinson (Dickinson, 2000). And she concluded that
verse with, ‘The truth must dazzle gradually, lest every man
be blind.’ I realized early on that I needed to find ways to
seduce readers, who might not be very interested in sci-
ence, into my subject. Dickinson’s words inspired me to let
the story itself carry readers through the more challenging
technical issues in the science.”
“My journey into narrative science storytelling started
with the Dickinson quote because of its emphasis on truth;
accuracy is an essential part of science writing. But I also
felt that what brings readers to science are not the facts
themselves, but how the narrator crafts the tale. Rather
than preaching to the choir by writing for a readership that
already supports science, I strive to bring back to the fold
those who have turned away and concluded that science is
boring, hard, and not important to their lives, when indeed
it is the opposite: fascinating and essential to our daily
“I have turned over and over to storytelling techniques
to allow scientific truths to dazzle. My book Love at Goon
Park, for instance, follows the life of the controversial, ec-
centric, and brilliant 20th century psychologist, Harry
Harlow, to explore the science of relationships, and pursue
the essential question of why family and friendship are so
important to human health. More recently, my book, The
poisoner’s handbook, tells the story of two crusading scien-
tists in the 1920s as they tried to figure out how to catch
killers, letting the true stories of a murderous decade in
New York City provide the backdrop for explaining the
basic chemistry of poisons. This book is in current use in
multiple high school classes as a way to show students that
chemistry is fascinating.”
The magic in storytelling
Storytelling is important in human cognition and human inter-
action, and perhaps especially so in performance and narrative
arts, from literature to standup comedy, to theater, cinema, and
stage magic.
Here we focus on the performance of magic, which like science
communication, inherently encompasses a story. Further paral-
lels may be drawn between the changes that take place during a
magic show and those that occur in the course of a scientific discov-
ery. Thus, investigating the structure of magic performances could
help us identify what makes for a good science story.
J.I.S., a professional magician, writer, and activist in the world
of scientific skepticism (the social movement that promotes a
scientific worldview, critical thinking, and rational inquiry), is
interested in the role of storytelling in magic and how it may
relate to that in other performance arts:
“Storytelling in magic performances (and likely in other
narrative forms too) can be explicit or implicit. The explicit
use of narrative in magic includes performances that are
accompanied by a spoken word ‘story.’ This kind of ‘pre-
sentation’ (a term used by magicians to describe such
scripting) has long been an element of conjuring. More
recently, the explicit use of story has been heralded within
certain artistic circles in magic, as exemplified by Jeff
McBride’s ‘Mystery School’ in Las Vegas, one of the only
existing schools organized for the study of magic.”
“Whereas the explicit use of storytelling in magic has its
limits, ‘story’ itself may be implicit to magic. When Teller,
of Penn and Teller, says that ‘Every magic trick is a story’
(personal communication), what he is likely alluding to is
that every magic trick possesses an inherent plot, with a
Martinez-Conde et al. The Storytelling Brain J. Neurosci., October 16, 2019 39(42):8285– 8290 • 8287
beginning, a middle, and an end. This is so because every
magical ‘effect’ involves a change of state, to wit: An object
is present. It vanishes. The object is gone. Or: An object is
green. It transforms. It is now red. Or: An object is de-
stroyed. A magical transformation occurs. The object is
restored. Hence, every magic trick is a story, even in the
absence of a spoken script.”
The above-mentioned convergence between magic and scien-
tific storytelling also suggests that breaking down magic stories
and investigating them scientifically could help researchers un-
derstand the psychological and neuroscientific mechanisms of
storytelling. From this perspective, magic could provide a proto-
col of investigation of cognitive mechanisms, which might eluci-
date how the brain tracks and perceives change, a major
constituent of storytelling.
Whereas a shared interest in the human experience has al-
ready resulted in fruitful collaborations between magicians and
neuroscientists (Macknik et al., 2008;Cui et al., 2011;Otero-
Millan et al., 2011;Rieiro et al., 2013), scientists have just begun
to investigate the impact of narrative on the magic experience
(Williams and McOwan, 2014). J.I.S. proposes that future re-
search on magic may attempt to isolate and examine features that
set magic apart from other performing arts, and the audience’s
experience of those arts.
At the heart of strong magic lies an experience of cognitive
dissonance that is not a requisite element of other performance or
narrative arts. Magic at its best confronts the viewer with an in-
herently dissonant experience, namely, convincing visual evi-
dence of an event or phenomenon that the viewer knows
intellectually to be impossible. Whereas magicians routinely put
to use the cognitive toolkit that all theatrical artists have used for
millennia, they also create an experience unlike those produced
by other arts.
Yet, the cognitive dissonance that is inherent to magic tricks
can lead to frustration and resentment, which can manifest in
audiences as heckling, proposing supposed (and often wrong)
explanations of the tricks, and other challenges. Magicians’ use of
explicit storytelling is often in service to resolving dissonance: not
by providing an explanation, but by engaging spectators’ emo-
tions, including the experience of wonder. The magician Whit
Haydn speaks of this dissonance as a “pointy place” that people
find it uncomfortable to sit on. Thus, he says: “The sword of
magic is concealed in the cloak of theater.”
Further areas of collaboration between magicians and scien-
tists, exemplified by historical and contemporary conjurers, such
as Harry Houdini, James Randi, and J.I.S. himself, are in the
efforts to debunk pseudoscientific thinking and practices (in-
cluding psychic fraud and other new age theosophies). This work,
which currently extends to dispelling misinformation in areas
such as climate change, or the antivaccination movement, may
also benefit from the lessons of narrative storytelling.
Thus far, we have addressed storytelling, as well as its neural
bases and consequences, in the context of neurotypical brains.
Next, we consider the unique challenges and opportunities that
neuroscience communication and storytelling present in the
context of neurodivergent speakers and/or neurodiverse audi-
Who gets to tell the story? Science communication,
neurodiversity, and personal advocacy
Storytelling is intimately linked with the culture and background
of the storyteller. Historically, the white/male perspective has
dominated science stories, but this is changing as STEM graduate
students are increasingly female and cross-cultural. Individuals
from different cultures may be primed to hear science stories
from their own cultural perspective, finding more relevance.
G.J.Q. describes his scientific mentoring in Puerto Rico:
“Creating a family-like atmosphere in the laboratory facil-
itates group cohesiveness and increases communication
skills in Latino trainees (Quirk, 2019). The effort by scien-
tific societies to make symposium panels more gender and
ethnically diverse is changing the face of the scientific com-
municator and generating role models that will help sci-
ence stories evolve.”
Although the intersection of neurodiversity and science com-
munication is a more recent concept, it has achieved significant
appreciation and media presence, in no small part thanks to the
16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg. Thunberg,
who is autistic, has made the argument that her neurodivergence
has helped her see through propaganda and political misdirec-
tion concerning climate change. She asserts that she became an
activist not despite her autism, but because of it (Silberman,
Neuroscience storytelling presents the possibility, as well as
the challenge, of discussing brain function, and individual differ-
ences in neural processing, while engaging the brains of ‘differ-
ently wired’ individuals. Future efforts should aim to deepen
current understanding of the science and society interface in the
context of neurodiverse audiences, or those integrated by pa-
tients and their communities. Such an exchange may be especially
powerful when the science communicators are themselves neu-
rodivergent or afflicted with neurological and/or psychiatric dis-
orders. In those cases, communicators may be particularly well
suited to bridge existing gaps between neuroscience education,
research, and advocacy. The following subsections are concerned
with science communication by speakers and/or for audiences on
the autism spectrum (Science communication on the spectrum),
or suffering from mental illness (Destigmatizing and improving
communication on mental illness).
Science communication on the spectrum
In 2006, 4 years after having been diagnosed with Asperger’s, N.B.
attended a lecture on autism at an academic institution. His ex-
perience illustrates a communication gap between autism re-
searchers and people who are autistic:
“Since my diagnosis, I had spent significant time studying
primary sources, the writings of other people in the autism
spectrum, and come to understand that some personal fea-
tures that I thought unique, such as being hyperflexible
(Curdlesnoot, 2007), or disliking being called by my given
name (Analkant, 2009), were autistic traits. I felt that self-
reported stories had the potential to help researchers who
might be otherwise unaware of the observations and expe-
riences of autistic authors.”
“Thus, when the speaker speculated that autistics’ gazes
are drawn more to mouths than eyes because mouths are
the source of speech (Klin et al., 2002), I objected that such
behavior arises not from the mouth’s movement as an at-
tractive force, but from direct eye contact gaze as an aver-
sive force for people on the spectrum. Because my
argument was based on personal experience, it was dis-
missed as subjective.”
8288 J. Neurosci., October 16, 2019 39(42):8285– 8290 Martinez-Conde et al. The Storytelling Brain
Although more recent research now acknowledges that eye
contact is aversive to autistics (Neumann et al., 2006), collabor-
ative efforts between autism researchers (who are frequently neu-
rotypical) and autistic individuals (who are life-long experts) are
too often lacking, leading to missed opportunities and delaying
research advances.
Autistics’ descriptions of their own experiences, and their ob-
servations of the ways in which they differ from neurotypicals, are
invaluable sources of hypotheses to investigate, as well as ways of
properly interpreting research. Some such stories are available at
Destigmatizing and improving communication on
mental illness
Mental disorders cost the United States significantly more than
any other medical condition: close to $200 billion in lost earnings
alone (National Institutes of Health, 2008). Finding cures for
mental illness is an important issue at a societal level, and also
because patients and their families suffer greatly. Yet, despite
decades of modern research on mental illness, including rela-
tively recent studies of the structure of human genome and ge-
netic associations by thousands of dedicated scientists (Wellcome
Trust Case Control Consortium, 2007;Gormley et al., 2016),
present understanding of the causes and underlying mechanisms
of mental illness remains unsatisfactory. As a consequence, suc-
cessful treatment is often elusive. Recent data suggest that mental
illness is caused by a combination of heredity and environment,
the latter involving multiple factors, including malnutrition, pre-
natal and birth complications, stress, drug abuse, and others
(Howes and Murray, 2014;Nimgaonkar et al., 2017;Misiak et al.,
2018), which act in complex interplay with one another and with
an individual’s genes. But it remains exceedingly hard to identify
the biological and chemical processes for mental illness, in part
because these disorders are diagnosed through observations of
behaviors rather than through more precise tests. Unlike cancer
and heart disease, mental illness has no objective measures; there
are no biological markers in current use that help diagnose men-
tal illness. It is also becoming clear that specific mental disorders
are not well categorized. There is some evidence that various
mental illnesses overlap at the level of behaviors as well as their
neurobiological substrates (Witt et al., 2017). For example, there
is current scientific consensus that the PFC is the main site of
disruption in people with schizophrenia (Selemon and Zecevic,
2015), although its network of connections with other parts of the
brain may be abnormal, too. Yet, what these abnormalities are
and how exactly the brain malfunctions in any given mental
problem remain largely unknown.
These difficulties contribute to, and are compounded by, the
association of mental illness with societal stigma (Carrara et al.,
2019;Charette-Dussault and Corbie`re, 2019;Heim et al., 2019).
Improved communication among researchers, clinicians, patient
communities, and the public may mitigate stigma by conveying
that mental illness is a brain disease, and not fundamentally dif-
ferent from ailments that affect other organs of the body, such as
heart or kidney disease.
B.K.L., a scientist who specializes in the study of mental dis-
orders, was diagnosed in 2015 with metastatic melanoma and
underwent immunotherapy treatment. The resulting frontal cor-
tex inflammation presented as mental illness:
“I experienced not just the terror and difficulty of living
with mental illness (Lipska and McArdle, 2018), but also
how other people react to mentally ill individuals. I had
first-hand evidence that mental illness is a disease of the
brain (Insel and Cuthbert, 2015). My outlook on mental
illness shifted to being more tolerant, understanding, and
motivated to share knowledge about brain and mental
B.K.L.’s unique perspective, as both a patient and a neurosci-
entist, lends great weight to her message on the importance of
addressing mental illness as a brain disease, and what neurosci-
ence as a field can do to reduce the stigma of such ailments in
In conclusion, there is a compelling need for researchers to
disseminate their findings widely to the public in an accessible
fashion. The audiences for these communications may include
those who are disinterested in science, as well as people with
widely varying preferences for how material is presented. Com-
municators themselves may differ in their approaches, as well as
in their first-person experiences of their area of study. Here we
argue that crafting objective, replicable facts into narrative scien-
tific storytelling is an effective means of communicating research
discoveries to nonspecialists. Storytelling not only creates emo-
tional connections to draw in the listener, but, like the narratives
that often accompany magic performances, can help ease an au-
dience’s discomfort or frustration with the information pre-
sented. Thus, well-crafted stories can help neuroscientists close
communication gaps between science and society, especially in
the case of neurodiverse and patient populations.
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... A neurociência da linguagem tem foco na compreensão de como a produção de palavras e frases individuais são implementadas. Uma observação interessante dessa linha de trabalho é que regiões que não são tradicionalmente pensadas como parte de uma "rede de línguas" no cérebro tornam-se consistentemente ativadas quando as pessoas ouvem narrativas (Martinez-Conde et al., 2019). Especula-se que estejam envolvidas áreas como o córtex cingulado, córtex pré-frontal medial e áreas próximas às regiões "linguísticas" frontais temporais e inferiores tradicionais. ...
... As ativações da linha média posterior têm sido ligadas ao maior intervalo de tempo, enquanto as ativações pré-frontais mediais, por sua vez, têm sido relacionadas aos aspectos "mentalizantes" e propriedades imersivas das narrativas (Martinez-Conde et al., 2019). Um ponto intrigante a notar é a sobreposição das regiões ativadas durante a compreensão narrativa e a chamada rede de modo padrão. ...
... Um ponto intrigante a notar é a sobreposição das regiões ativadas durante a compreensão narrativa e a chamada rede de modo padrão. Essa sobreposição pode ser significativa no sentido de que o "estado de repouso" convida à construção narrativa (Martinez-Conde et al., 2019). O tipo ou conteúdo da divagação mental que ocorre durante o estado de repouso é irrestrito (e desconhecido), mas é concebível que tenha estrutura narrativa (Jacobs & Willems, 2018). ...
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O presente artigo busca refletir sobre a importância da terapia narrativa para o tratamento do psicotrauma e abordar o seu mecanismo neurobiológico e suas relações com a neurociência, em uma perspectiva integrativa. É de interesse explorar como a técnica de terapia narrativa pode ser aplicada para o processo humanístico de cura, e como esse processo ocorre em nível molecular. Tais inter-relações serão apresentadas em uma revisão bibliográfica de literatura, de forma a contribuir para a discussão sobre o tema.
... Inattentional blindness can be intentionally created by "misdirecting" observers, purposely diverting their attention away from certain events which would be otherwise apparent (i.e., the intruding gorilla in the example above) and towards competing concurrent events (i.e., the players passing the ball to one another) [16,19,[61][62][63][64][65]. In magic, misdirection can be so effective that spectators fail to notice events even when looking directly at them [66]. ...
... Magicians also use narrative and storytelling (i.e., "patter") to distract audiences at crucial points in the performance. Narrative can moreover hold an audience's attention on specifically intended information [61] and thus serve to turn their attention away from other content which may be more important. Just as emotion can drive attention during magic shows [16], compelling and emotional news stories can pull attention towards a narrow slice of information and away from other facts or perspectives. ...
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When we believe misinformation, we have succumbed to an illusion: our perception or interpretation of the world does not match reality. We often trust misinformation for reasons that are unrelated to an objective, critical interpretation of the available data: Key facts go unnoticed or unreported. Overwhelming information prevents the formulation of alternative explanations. Statements become more believable every time they are repeated. Events are reframed or given “spin” to mislead audiences. In magic shows, illusionists apply similar techniques to convince spectators that false and even seemingly impossible events have happened. Yet, many magicians are “honest liars,” asking audiences to suspend their disbelief only during the performance, for the sole purpose of entertainment. Magic misdirection has been studied in the lab for over a century. Psychological research has sought to understand magic from a scientific perspective and to apply the tools of magic to the understanding of cognitive and perceptual processes. More recently, neuroscientific investigations have also explored the relationship between magic illusions and their underlying brain mechanisms. We propose that the insights gained from such studies can be applied to understanding the prevalence and success of misinformation. Here, we review some of the common factors in how people experience magic during a performance and are subject to misinformation in their daily lives. Considering these factors will be important in reducing misinformation and encouraging critical thinking in society.
... A narrative is a coherent representation of actual or fictional events designed to connect experiences (Martinez-Conde et al., 2019). Narrative comprehension is complex, requiring sustained attention and integration of cognitive inputs. ...
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A narrative is a coherent representation of actual or fictional events designed to connect experiences. Narratives provide a unique opportunity to investigate brain functions in scenarios more closely resembling real-world experiences. However, most neuroimaging studies examining narrative formation have utilized static stimuli that fail to capture the intricacies of narrative construction in everyday life, particularly how cognitive demands change over the course of narrative processing. The current research uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine dynamic narrative processing over the course of a full-length audiovisual narrative. We examined changes in neural synchrony (as quantified by intersubject correlations) in areas related to semantic memory, episodic memory, and visuospatial attention between the beginning, middle, and end of the narrative. Results from two experiments identified two core narrative processing networks responsible for constructing coherent representations across extended timescales. The first network is associated with the early narrative construction, and includes the right intraparietal sulcus/superior parietal lobule, bilateral angular gyrus, bilateral precuneus, and left fusiform gyrus. The second network consists of the right ventral frontal cortex and bilateral parahippocampal cortices, and is associated with longer term narrative integration. Together, these regions provide the framework for successful narrative processing during naturalistic stimuli.
... Issues like global warming, conservation, and artificial intelligence, raise complex questions around governance and policy which require public involvement [Hickel, 2016;Kaijser & Lövbrand, 2019;Martinez-Conde et al., 2019;Reinsborough, 2017]. Effective science communication can facilitate public engagement with the often complex science underpinning these societal issues. ...
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People become familiar with stories as sources of information in their childhood, and, while they have recently received interest as potential science communication tools, few studies have considered aspects of story quality on science communication. We postulate that quality is an important, if challenging, facet that should be considered when exploring the potential of short stories in science communication. This essay argues that quality should be a key consideration of those interested in studying or working with short stories for science communication purposes and presents criteria for the `well-made' short story.
... Narrative theory posits that consumers use "products and services as props or anthropomorphic identities to enact story productions that reflect archetypal myths" (Woodside et al., 2008, p. 98). While cathartic, the act of storytelling is also a powerful means of transporting the storyteller into the storydan effect well established within the cognitive sciences (Carless, 2008;Decety & Cacioppo, 2011;Martinez-Conde et al., 2019;Sabatier & Lannegrand-Willems, 2005). Storytelling can help transfer knowledge, perpetuate collective memories, and construct meaning. ...
... Part of my storytelling journey was following the growing research and reports on the subject, especially the recent neuroscience research and science-based guidance on systematic story development for different audiences (Martinez-Conde et al., 2019). I found that business leadership research had discovered that certain approaches to storytelling by leaders can be effective to help to implement the change strategies they are leading ("narrative leadership" Auvinen et al., 2013). ...
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The purpose of this article is to consider the changing context for implementation research and practice and new approaches which might now be more relevant for some implementation objectives. Factors that hindered implementation of evidence-based practices before the COVID-19 pandemic was an anti-science culture, strengthened by different media and appeals to emotion and identity. The article questions how effective are the rational-cognitive and individual models of change that frequency informs our research and practice. It describes challenges we face and considers methods we could use that might be more effective, including research-informed narrative methods, participatory research and practice, especially with culturally and linguistically diverse peoples, and adaptive implementation.
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1. INTRODUCCIÓN En el ámbito de la ciencia, la narración digital se puede utilizar para promover la comprensión pública de la ciencia, ya que la ciencia y la tecnología juegan un papel en nuestra vida diaria y en la toma de deci-siones políticas y sociales. Es importante que el público tenga una sólida comprensión de la ciencia, sus métodos y sus aplicaciones y limitacio-nes, a fin de participar de manera informada en el debate público y la toma de decisiones relacionadas con cuestiones científicas. Existen diversas estrategias y herramientas para promover la compren-sión pública de la ciencia, como la educación científica formal, la comu-nicación científica a través de medios de comunicación, en plataformas digitales y la participación ciudadana en proyectos científicos. En consecuencia, el uso de tecnologías digitales está fomentando una variedad de prácticas educativas centradas en la creación de historias o narrativas. Esta técnica implica el empleo de medios digitales como audio , video, imágenes y texto para contar una historia de manera atractiva y comprensible. Según Behmer, Schmidt y Schmidt (2006), la narración digital se ha convertido en una valiosa actividad de aprendizaje que me-jora las diversas capacidades, habilidades y talentos de los estudiantes. Entre sus cualidades se encuentra el desarrollo de competencias comu-nicativas, lo cual permite a los expertos contar historias científicas de una manera atractiva y accesible para el público en general. Asimismo,
Gamification can increase the efficiency and the benefits to be received from an educational content; therefore, it could be used as a novel tool to help the child to engage more with the content. Because studies have shown that through gamification and gamified educational content, children with ASD's motor, behavioural, and communication skills can improve. However, selecting a tool that is suited for the child's unique needs, and instruments that can be adjusted along the way depending on the child's progress, plays a key role to achieve this goal. Different from the traditional methods, gamification-based approaches are accessible to children with ASD both at home and in school environments. Through gamification and under the guidance of professionals, traditional methods can be delivered in a non-traditional way. This way parents can be involved in their children's education and can keep track of their children's progress through the measurement tools encompassed in the gamification method. This chapter focuses on the abovementioned issues and presents a literature survey.
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There is a growing amount of literature on the importance and role of communication in almost all aspects of daily life. The establishment of specialist sub-fields such as science communication, innovation communication and climate change communication are evidence of this. Due to the lack of literature on communication within the area of futures studies (also referred to as futures research), this study explores how communication is explained and understood by futurists in their field. To support a general understanding of communication and contextualise the research, the study also examines the communication theory literature, which has been largely ignored by the developers of specialist communication sub-fields. This research uses a social constructionist paradigm and implements a holistic multiple-case design case study with two groups of futures practitioners. One group is embedded within an organisation and therefore considered homogenous. The second group consists of professional futurists from around the world and is considered heterogeneous. Data is collected through semi-structured interviews and analysed through a Foucauldian-inspired discourse analysis.
Background: Many people deny science and reject health recommendations despite widely distributed facts and statistics. Didactic science and health communication is often dry, and relies on the false assumption that people make purely evidence-based decisions. Stories can be a powerful teaching tool by capturing attention and evoking emotion. Objective: We explore the impact and appeal of, and describe best practices for, using narrative (storytelling) versus didactic methods in science and health communication. Patient involvement: No patients were involved in the review process. Methods: We searched PubMed and Web of Science for articles either: assessing effectiveness of narrative science/health communication; assessing acceptability of (or preference for) narrative science/health communication; giving advice on how best to use narrative; and/or providing science-based explanations for how/why narrative succeeds. Results: Narrative science/health communication is effective and appealing for audiences across a variety of topics and mediums, with supporting evidence across fields such as epidemiology, neuroscience, and psychology. Whether narrative or didactic messaging is most effective depends on the topic, audience, and objective, as well as message quality. However, combining narrative with didactic methods is likely to be more effective than using either strategy alone. Discussion: Narrative science/health communication merits wider implementation and further research. Narrative communication creates openness to information by delaying the formulation of counterarguments. Practical value: Science and health communicators should collaborate with cultural and storytelling experts, work directly with their target audiences throughout the message development and testing processes, and rely on popular story elements (e.g., first-person point of view, relatable protagonists) to improve the comprehension, engagement, and thoughtful consideration of their intended audience. Funding: This work was funded by Thirty Meter Telescope, with which two authors (GKS and SD) were affiliated. Otherwise, the funding organization had no role in the study and/or submission.
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Aims This systematic review compiled evidence on interventions to reduce mental health-related stigma among medical and nursing students in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Primary outcomes were stigmatising attitudes and discriminatory behaviours. Methods Data collection included two strategies. First, previous systematic reviews were searched for studies that met the inclusion criteria of the current review. Second, a new search was done, covering the time since the previous reviews, i.e. January 2013 to May 2017. Five search concepts were combined in order to capture relevant literature: stigma, mental health, intervention, professional students in medicine and nursing, and LMICs. A qualitative analysis of all included full texts was done with the software MAXQDA. Full texts were analysed with regard to the content of interventions, didactic methods, mental disorders, cultural adaptation, type of outcome measure and primary outcomes. Furthermore, a methodological quality assessment was undertaken. Results A total of nine studies from six countries (Brazil, China, Malaysia, Nigeria, Somaliland and Turkey) were included. All studies reported significant results in at least one outcome measure. However, from the available literature, it is difficult to draw conclusions on the most effective interventions. No meta-analysis could be calculated due to the large heterogeneity of intervention content, evaluation design and outcome measures. Studies with contact interventions (either face-to-face or video) demonstrated attitudinal change. There was a clear lack of studies focusing on discriminatory behaviours. Accordingly, training of specific communication and clinical skills was lacking in most studies, with the exception of one study that showed a positive effect of training interview skills on attitudes. Methods for cultural adaptation of interventions were rarely documented. The methodological quality of most studies was relatively low, with the exception of two studies. Conclusions There is an increase in studies on anti-stigma interventions among professional students in LMICs. Some of these studies used contact interventions and showed positive effects. A stronger focus on clinical and communication skills and behaviour-related outcomes is needed in future studies.
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Climate change is an issue which elicits low engagement, even among concerned segments of the public. While research suggests that the presentation of factual information (e.g., scientific consensus) can be persuasive to some audiences, there is also empirical evidence indicating that it may also increase resistance in others. In this research, we investigate whether climate change narratives structured as stories are better than informational narratives at promoting pro-environmental behavior in diverse audiences. We propose that narratives structured as stories facilitate experiential processing, heightening affective engagement and emotional arousal, which serve as an impetus for action-taking. Across three studies, we manipulate the structure of climate change communications to investigate how this influences narrative transportation, measures of autonomic reactivity indicative of emotional arousal, and pro-environmental behavior. We find that stories are more effective than informational narratives at promoting pro-environmental behavior (studies 1 and 3) and self-reported narrative transportation (study 2), particularly those with negatively valenced endings (study 3). The results of study 3 indicate that embedding information in story structure influences cardiac activity, and subsequently, pro-environmental behavior. These findings connect works from the fields of psychology, neuroscience, narratology, and climate change communication, advancing our understanding of how narrative structure influences engagement with climate change through emotional arousal, which likely incites pro-environmental behavior as the brain’s way of optimizing bodily budgets.
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Many academics have strong incentives to influence policymaking, but may not know where to start. We searched systematically for, and synthesised, the ‘how to’ advice in the academic peer-reviewed and grey literatures. We condense this advice into eight main recommendations: (1) Do high quality research; (2) make your research relevant and readable; (3) understand policy processes; (4) be accessible to policymakers: engage routinely, flexible, and humbly; (5) decide if you want to be an issue advocate or honest broker; (6) build relationships (and ground rules) with policymakers; (7) be ‘entrepreneurial’ or find someone who is; and (8) reflect continuously: should you engage, do you want to, and is it working? This advice seems like common sense. However, it masks major inconsistencies, regarding different beliefs about the nature of the problem to be solved when using this advice. Furthermore, if not accompanied by critical analysis and insights from the peer-reviewed literature, it could provide misleading guidance for people new to this field.
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Twenty years ago, I arrived in Puerto Rico from New York City to establish a neuroscience laboratory and research program on extinction of conditioned fear. The lab's first research paper appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience (Quirk et al., 2000) and has been cited >900 times. The success of this project in Puerto Rico far surpassed my original expectations. Therefore, I thought it might be useful to identify the factors responsible for this success, with the hope of facilitating the development of laboratories in diverse settings. A description of our lab practices is interspersed with personal statements from trainees hailing from Puerto Rico and other parts of Latin America. Creating an effective research and training environment depends less on the director's personality and more on the proper practice of activities that foster intellectual growth, such as journal clubs, lab meetings, and philosophy of science retreats. On a personal level, this project has been enormously gratifying. The unique environment in Puerto Rico fostered my best work, and I am very happy to have established my laboratory here.
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People engage in simulation when reading literary narratives. In this study, we tried to pinpoint how different kinds of simulation (perceptual and motor simulation, mentalising) affect reading behaviour. Eye-tracking (gaze durations, regression probability) and questionnaire data were collected from 102 participants, who read three literary short stories. In a pre-test, 90 additional participants indicated which parts of the stories were high in one of the three kinds of simulation-eliciting content. The results show that motor simulation reduces gaze duration (faster reading), whereas perceptual simulation and mentalising increase gaze duration (slower reading). Individual differences in the effect of simulation on gaze duration were found, which were related to individual differences in aspects of story world absorption and story appreciation. These findings suggest fundamental differences between different kinds of simulation and confirm the role of simulation in absorption and appreciation.
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Recent decades have ushered in tremendous progress in understanding the neural basis of language. Most of our current knowledge on language and the brain, however, is derived from lab-based experiments that are far removed from everyday language use, and that are inspired by questions originating in linguistic and psycho-linguistic contexts. In this paper we argue that in order to make progress, the field needs to shift its focus to understanding the neurobiology of naturalistic language comprehension. We present here a new conceptual framework for understanding the neurobiological organization of language comprehension. This framework is non-language-centered in the computational/neurobiological constructs it identifies, and focuses strongly on context. Our core arguments address three general issues: (i) the difficulty in extending language-centric explanations to discourse; (ii) the necessity of taking context as a serious topic of study, modeling it formally and acknowledging the limitations on external validity when studying language comprehension outside context; and (iii) the tenuous status of the language network as an explanatory construct. We argue that adopting this framework means that neurobiological studies of language will be less focused on identifying correlations between brain activity patterns and mechanisms postulated by psycholinguistic theories. Instead, they will be less self-referential and increasingly more inclined towards integration of language with other cognitive systems, ultimately doing more justice to the neurobiological organization of language and how it supports language as it is used in everyday life.
This integrative review analyses and synthesizes specialized literature of 20 years up to 2017 studying barriers/obstacles to employment for people with severe mental illnesses. The inclusion and exclusion criteria led to 35 experimental and nonexperimental studies. Results of the prospective studies were analyzed with the evidence synthesis method to isolate the most salient obstacles. Six main themes emerged from the findings, grouped into personal and environmental barriers. Environmental barriers were related to disability benefits and other physical resources, to stigma and social support, and to vocational services. Individual barriers included those related to illness, to work experience and skills, and to self-perception, fears, and motivation. The most prominent obstacles are lack of work experience and lack of use of effective strategies toward employment. Systematically identifying barriers to employment for people with severe mental illnesses will enable employment specialists to better support their clients in overcoming them, thus facilitating their work integration.
People utilize multiple expressive modalities for communicating narrative ideas about past events. The three major ones are speech, pantomime, and drawing. The current study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to identify common brain areas that mediate narrative communication across these three sensorimotor mechanisms. In the scanner, participants were presented with short narrative prompts akin to newspaper headlines (e.g., "Surgeon finds scissors inside of patient"). The task was to generate a representation of the event, either by describing it verbally through speech, by pantomiming it gesturally, or by drawing it on a tablet. In a control condition designed to remove sensorimotor activations, participants described the spatial properties of individual objects (e.g., "binoculars"). Each of the three modality-specific subtractions produced similar results, with activations in key components of the mentalizing network, including the TPJ, posterior STS, and posterior cingulate cortex. Conjunction analysis revealed that these areas constitute a cross-modal "narrative hub" that transcends the three modalities of communication. The involvement of these areas in narrative production suggests that people adopt an intrinsically mentalistic and character-oriented perspective when engaging in storytelling, whether using speech, pantomime, or drawing.