How Stories Make Two Hearts Beat As One (Literally)

As Valentine’s Day approaches and thoughts turn once again to love and romance (and that dinner reservation you forgot to make, so get on it already!), we would like you to remember that a” heartfelt story” is more than just an expression.

Chelsea scooches her chair closer to the small, candlelit table for two and takes in her date’s uneven dimples. He’s cute. Almost cute enough to forget the pain of her going-out boots which are cutting off circulation to her toes. Her mind is racing, “Are we going to have anything to talk about?” A few exchanged niceties about the restaurant don’t do much to ease the awkward tension. But then Dimple Guy says something that gets Chelsea’s full attention: “I was almost late because I’m watching the last season of Ozark and I could barely turn it off.”

Chelsea sits up excitedly, suddenly forgetting this is a first date. “I love that show!” she exclaims, maybe a little too forcefully. And they are off to the races, sharing favorite parts and theories about what’s coming next. Jordan (the date formerly known as Dimple Guy) doesn’t feel like a stranger anymore to Chelsea. They are both really into this show, and it’s starting to feel like, maybe, just maybe, they could be into each other, too.

So, what does this meet-cute have to do with you? A study authored by Lucas Parra, a professor of biomedical engineering at City College of New York, helps to explain the connection made in moments like these. “Conscious processing of narrative stimuli synchronizes heart rate between individuals,” Parra writes. Or as Susan Pinker writes in an article for the Wall Street Journal: “Research shows that listening to the same narrative leads our heart rates to rise and fall in unison.” First date or not: when we read, watch or listen to the same story as someone else, whether they are in the same room with us or not, we sync up. We share the experience in a visceral way.

Between theories about the brain’s mirror neurons and now Parra’s study of the heart, scientists are proving again and again that stories connect us with one another. You have probably experienced this synchronizing effect yourself. Each time you discovered a shared story with a colleague, client, legislator or donor, you probably got the feeling that you really shared something. And that’s because you did. Your hearts, the actual organs themselves, took the same journey. You really were in it together.

So, when you need to create a spark between your audience and your organization, why not sync their heartbeats with each other’s and with yours? Connect, create common ground, advocate, and make your audience fall in love with your cause by using the most powerful tool there is: a good story.

And Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at The Goodman Center!