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 -- ScienceDailyTo 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.