Storytelling is the great (great, great) grandma of books. Before we had paper and pens and printers and cyberspace, we had the art of oratory. Yet even in our modern age, the appeal of a good storyteller is not lost on us. In a recent experiment carried out at University of Buffalo, NY, a three-part study revealed that good storytellers are more desirable as partners and lead happier lives.
The experiment was comprised of three studies. In the first study, a group of (presumptively hetero) men and women were shown a screen image of an individual of the opposite sex and told that he/she was a good, moderate or poor storyteller. In the second study, another group of men and women were given short stories, supposedly written by the individuals they saw on screen. Some of the stories were compelling and well written, as where others were rambling, blunt, incoherent, and less compelling generally speaking. After listening to the story the male and female subjects were asked to rate the storyteller – good, moderate, or poor. In the third study, the men and women were once again shown an individual, told he/she was a good, moderate, or poor storyteller, and then asked to evaluate the individual’s social and leadership skills, as well as overall attractiveness.
The results? Across the board and in all three studies, women rated the men who were better storytellers as more attractive. Interestingly enough, the quality of the female storyteller was of trivial importance to the male subjects. The feuding feminist in me is eager to making sweeping statements about that result, but according to Dr. Kari Winter, a historian and literary critic at University of Buffalo, it has little to do with sexism and more to do with biology. Women traditionally have better communication skills than men, and oratorical ability is a less profound trait. Conversely, a man’s ability to share a story is less ubiquitous. It relays the ability to express, communicate, be vulnerable and most importantly, extend oneself to obtain resources.
In summary, the best in the babe pool are the best at communicating.
Desirable storytellers in lit, like Shahrazad from One Thousand and One Arabian nights (image courtesy of http://bit.ly/29y95OB)
Beyond desirability, good storytellers have a better sense of self. Telling stories allows for a veneer of tone and frame, meaning stories can be (and often are by this group of happier people) told in a positive way. When the narrative is positive, a mirrored sense of well-being follows. Moreover, it just feels good to hear and be heard, to be “admitted to the warmth and privacy of another soul” as Virginia Woolf so eloquently puts it. Dr. Winter’s rendition of Woolf’s is that “it is empowering to the teller because they get recognition from the listener. And it is empowering to the listener because it helps them understand the teller.” It’s no wonder that relationships are forged on ‘that night’ spent up late blabbing and having the conversations that are strictly about everything. They’re the conversations formative and critical to intimacy, according to the study.
Winter goes on to say that these types of conversations – where stories are exchanged and private barriers breached – are increasingly important once you’re past the initial phase of a relationship. Once over the rosy hued joy of getting to know someone, it’s easy for storytelling to fall to the back burner and the wear and tear of everyday life take center stage in conversation. Winter reminds us that if stories truly are at the heart of intimacy, we must preserve the space to talk and listen. We should talk about ‘firsts’ past, present and future as much as possible, and weave in as much emotion and description as we can. Because these rich narrations get better with time, they should be practiced by adhering to the three R’s: Reflecting on the events that sculpt your stories, refining what they mean to you now, and reading. Yes, reading. After all, the best way to tell a good story is to learn from the experts.
Featured image courtesy of Merry Farmer.