Thursday, May 12, 2016

Storytelling and emotion: Their physical impact on speaker and audience

An effort to physically map human emotions and the impact they have on the body used stories and storytelling to elicit emotions--and gives us clues about what your audiences may be feeling when you tell different types of stories.

To create these maps (view larger), the 700 participants were shown a variety of emotional words, stories, videos, and images. They were then asked to paint two human silhouettes on a computer; one to show where they felt increased sensation, and the other for decreased sensation. The researchers then compiled all of the maps, being careful to mitigate the effect of sensation-specific phrases (cold feet, heartbroken, hot-headed, a shiver down your spine), and to remove any “anomalous painting behavior” (doodles, symbols, etc.) The two silhouettes were then combined, and then the combined images from all participants were averaged to create the final maps.
Speakers will appreciate that fear and shame appear from this test to be upper-body emotions, flooding the face and torso. The research not only identifies where in your body you (or your audience) will feel an emotion, but showed reactions to particular types of stories. On the circle map here, the emotional intent of the story is shown around the circle's edge, while the color-coded lines show the emotions of the audience's reaction. What's interesting here are the combined emotions evoked by certain types of stories. Happy stories only yielded happy reactions, for example, but an angry story might yield anger as well as feelings of disgust or sadness.

You can read the research here. I'd advise you to use the circle chart when you're planning the impact of a story you wish to tell. What impact (or impacts) will it have on the audience? Where will they be reacting physically?