The Atlantic put out a super interesting article last week about the value we as humans place on storytellers, and I totally recommend actually reading it because it’s worth it. Andrea Migliano, an anthropologist at University College London, and her team have found evidence that stories and the act of storytelling began partially as a way of creating and solidifying social bonds, ethics, and cooperation.
When her study began, Migliano wasn’t looking for data on storytelling, she wanted to know what qualities the Agta, a group of hunter-gatherers from the Philippines, valued most in their society. Her team of students asked 300 Agta to name five people they’d most want to live with, to nominate the strongest people they knew, those whose opinions were most respected, those with the most medical knowledge, and finally, as an afterthought, the best storytellers. They thought storytelling would be an interesting contrast amongst more esteemed skills, but the Agta seemed to value storytelling above everything else.
Those good at storytelling were twice as likely to be named ideal living companions, and storytelling was “highly valued, twice as much as being a good hunter,” said Migliano.
What’s particularly interesting is that this isn’t unique to the Agta. Storytelling is a skill revered by hunter-gatherer groups across the globe. They’re more likely to receive gifts and are desired most as both living companions and romantic companions. On average, storytellers have 0.5 more children than non-storytelling peers, which was a statistically significant finding. Migliano suggests that while “stories might help to knit communities together, evolution doesn’t operate for the good of the group. If storytelling is truly an adaptation, it has to benefit the individuals who are good at it—and it clearly does.”
It’s hard to pin this on storytelling alone, however. “Creativity comes with its own suite of personality traits, which may make people more attractive sexual partners,” said Lisa Zunshine, a professor of English at the University of Kentucky.
At the end of the day, hunter-gatherers are utilizing storytelling to instill a sense of community and ethics within their group. Michelle Scalise Sugiyama from the University of Oregon, who has studied the origins of storytelling, added that other societies, like the Tsimane of Bolivia place the same importance on storytelling, indicating “that storytelling contributes something of adaptive value to human life.”
“Stories also contain valuable cultural knowledge, and accomplished storytellers are repositories of this knowledge,” noted Sugiyama.
So basically storytellers are the best kind of people. I dig it.
Featured Image Via the Atlantic.