Narratives Change Behavior

© Marek - Fotolia.comDaniel J. Siegel wrote a fascinating book titled, The Developing Mind. In his book, he points out a direct correlation between narrative and long-term memory. The process starts in the hippocampus and prefrontal parts of the brain, which captures autobiographical memory. Only a small portion of the memory will transfer to long-term memory.

The transference of the memory to permanent memory is based on a form of narrative, through cortical consolidation. This narrative is developed in small children in the second year of their life through interactions with their parents. The process of interacting that includes the sharing of their day with each other creates the transfer link to permanent memory.

The more a person interacts through the sharing of the story of their day, the more likely they will be able to narrate to themselves. When parents show an interest in their child’s day and allows the child to share his or her events, the process helps the child create free thought. The result is an ability for the child’s imaginings and the content of their memories to become an active part in their subconscious and conscious thoughts.

Filmmakers and preachers, to help their congregation or audience alter their behavior, can use this same narrative process. Shareable stories determine patterns of behavior or narrative enactments, which influences our subconscious thoughts – Leading to an altered state of mind.

This process can easily be seen in people working through issues or difficult decisions while in a dream state, watching guided imagery (like films), and journaling. This is possible because the process accesses more information from our minds and experiences than can be reviewed during purposeful introspection.

Preachers have shared for centuries that one of the best ways to break a reoccurring sin in our lives is to “confess our sins one to another.” This act is a form of narrative that can directly impact our decision making process and cause us to neutralize the impact or hold the temptation has in our lives – Setting us free and empowering us to make other choices.

The narrative process that can drop life-changing information into our long-term memory, which we use in decision-making, requires co-construction or interaction of some kind. It is a form of interpersonal communication that includes a person sharing and another person listening. A person of faith who believes God hears his or her prayers fits the process and helps the person develop more powerful decision-making abilities.

What I find fascinating is how narrative films can also alter coherent functioning through co-construction. Since the regular narrative process is based on social experiences and relationships, a movie can draw a person into the narrative through the use of strong visuals and emotional music to the point where the person is the listener in the conversation. The verbal and non-verbal reactions that the audience exhibits when bonded with the main character or protagonist, can create the false experience that the audience is also involved in the sharing, albeit vicariously – Not that our memories can distinguish the difference.

Film can thereby link and unify disparate memories to generate new behaviors, as if it originated within the core of a person’s thought process. This will directly impact future decisions to reflect the overlaying ideas determined by the media. In other words, the narrative process used in film can reorganize our thought patterns to create new mental models that strongly weigh in on our decision process.

To disarm negative inputs after watching a liberal movie, the person would have to journal or socially discuss the movie with another person. This conscious and purposeful approach would create a new narrative that will overwrite the first or at least put the first into memory as a negative element rather than a false positive element – Thereby empowering conservative decisions.

Both preachers and filmmakers have the ability to impact peoples’ behavior through narrative. The congregation and audience who receives the messages without consideration will store it in their memory as a good element for future decisions, but the person who consciously reviews the narrative in a social setting will be able to decide if it is remembered as a good or bad element. This empowers people to increase their memory with wisdom rather than foolishness.

It is no wonder that great spiritual movements have come from preachers using narrative. Nor is it a surprise that society has changed based on trends in the motion picture industry. Narrative is a powerful tool for changing behavior.

© 2013 by CJ Powers
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2 thoughts on “Narratives Change Behavior

  1. Wow, CJ, that is amazing stuff. I think we feel and know intuitively that sermons, films, even conversations and confession (as you point out) have mind and behavior altering power. Sharing this one far and wide! Will definitely be pondering and discussing this one with other filmmaker friends!! Additionally, I’m now intrigued enough to check out Siegel’s book.

    • Paul, The book has great information in it, but I must confess that it is very heavy. I had to read it at 1/20th my normal reading speed to comprehend it all – And reread several sections. However, the information is eye opening.

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