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Self-redemption narrative makes healing more durable

research examined whether the production of a narrative containing self-redemption (wherein the narrator describes a positive personality change following a negative experience) predicts positive behavioral change. In Study 1, we compared the narratives of alcoholics who had maintained their sobriety for over 4 years with those of alcoholics who had been sober 6 months or less. When describing their last drink, the former were significantly more likely to produce a narrative containing self-redemption than the latter. In Study 2, we examined the relation between the profession of self-redemption and behavioral change using a longitudinal design, by following the newly sober alcoholics from Study 1 over time. Although indistinguishable at initial assessment, newly sober alcoholics whose narratives included self-redemption were substantially more likely to maintain sobriety in the following months, compared to newly sober alcoholics who produced nonredemptive narratives; 83% of the redemptive group maintained sobriety between assessments, compared to 44% of nonredemptive participants. Redemptive participants in Study 2 also demonstrated improved health relative to the nonredemptive group. In both studies, the effects of self-redemption on sobriety and health held after controlling for relevant personality traits, alcohol dependence, recovery program involvement, initial physical and mental health, and additional narrative themes. Collectively, these results suggest that the production of a self-redemptive narrative may stimulate prolonged behavioral change and thus indicate a potentially modifiable psychological process that exhibits a major influence on recovery from addiction. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved)

Zoning out or deep thinking? Brain scans show that stories that force us to think about our deepest values activate a region of the brain once thought to be its autopilot -- ScienceDaily

To find relevant stories, the researchers sorted through 20 million blog posts using software developed at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies. "We wanted to know how people tell stories in their daily lives. It was kind of like finding stories in their natural habitat," said Kaplan, assistant research professor of psychology at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. That 20 million was pared down to 40 stories that each contained an example of a crisis involving a potentially protected value: cheating on a spouse, having an abortion, crossing a picket line, or getting in a fight. Those stories were translated into Mandarin Chinese and Farsi, and then read by American, Chinese and Iranian participants in their native language while their brains were scanned by fMRI. They also answered general questions about the stories while being scanned. Stories that participants said involved values that were protected to them activated the default mode network in their brain to a greater degree. In addition, the level of activation varied from culture to culture. On average, Iranians showed the greatest level of activation in the study, while the Chinese participants showed the least. "Stories appear to be a fundamental way in which the brain organizes information in a practical and memorable manner. It is important to understand the neural mechanisms required to do this, and this study is a step in that direction," said Antonio Damasio, senior author of the study. Damasio is co-director of the Brain and Creativity Institute, holder of the David Dornsife Chair in Neuroscience and a professor of psychology and neurology.

Brains synchronized by story-telling

In a 2010 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, the psychologist Uri Hasson and his Princeton University colleagues had a graduate student tell an unrehearsed story while her brain was being scanned in an fMRI machine. Then they scanned the brains of 11 volunteers listening to a recording of the story. As the researchers analysed the data, they found some striking similarities. Just when the speaker’s brain lit up in the area of the insula – a region that governs empathy and moral sensibilities – the listeners’ insulae lit up, too. Listeners and speakers also showed parallel activation of the temporoparietal junction, which helps us imagine other people’s thoughts and emotions. In certain essential ways, then, stories help our brains map that of the storyteller.
Mr. Foster fell into newslettering while working as a web developer last fall. He had a lot of free time to spend “fucking around on Twitter,” as he put it, and in one tweet, he wrote the phrase “Today in Tabs,” which refers to the open pages on the window of an Internet browser. “Wait is this a e-newsletter I can subscribe to?” New Yorker senior web producer Caitlin Kelly tweeted fatefully in reply.   “I was like ‘yeah, okay, sure,’” Mr. Foster said. “So I wrote one and sent it out two hours later.”