144 – Science warms up to story

To build trust, you need to share emotional information. Listen to hear how three studies found a link between oxytocin and behaviour change.

Father playing with son

Welcome to another episode of Anecdotally Speaking! This week, we’re celebrating the release of our new paper, The Science of Storytelling, which details what scientific studies show and what businesses need to know about the power of story. 

Anecdote Principal Rob Grundel, who led the authoring of the paper, joins Shawn and Mark to share one of his favourite stories from its six sections. You can find the paper here or download a PDF version to read later here

Our 2022 events calendar is now live on our website! Head to www.anecdote.com/events to see when we’re running public Storytelling for Leaders, Story-Powered Sales and Story-Powered Data programs this year. And if you’d like to attend a program to evaluate it for your organisation, email us at people@anecdote.com, and we’ll organise a free ticket for you.

For your storybank

Tags: behaviour change, connecting, connection, experiments, rapport, research, scientific, trust

This story starts at 08:42

In 2004, Paul Zak and his research team ran three studies.

In the first, Paul and his team looked to see what occurred within the human body as individuals came to trust one another. By measuring different hormone levels in the body while individuals partook in scenarios designed to form and solidify connections, the team found that oxytocin increased as trust grew.

Then, Paul wondered what individuals could do to impact one another’s oxytocin levels. So in the second study, his team split experiment participants into two groups, who were both shown a video of a father playing with his child. That was all one group saw, but the other saw the father get closer to the camera and reveal that his son was dying of cancer.

Both groups had their oxytocin levels measured before and after watching the video. Paul and his team found that the second group, who had received the extra piece of information, had increases in their oxytocin levels. In other words, they had come to trust the man because he had revealed the emotional information.

In the third study, Paul questioned whether gaining trust through communication could cause behaviour change. Twenty people from a group of forty were injected with oxytocin so that they would immediately trust other individuals. The research team gave all forty £5 and asked them to watch a series of public service announcements from United Kingdom charities.

Afterwards, the team asked all forty individuals whether they’d like to donate their £5 to one of the charities. The individuals injected with oxytocin were 56% more likely to.

Paul has continued to work in this field, seeing how the building of trust leads people to do things that are costly to them in terms of time or money.

About  Anecdote International

Anecdote International is a global training and consulting company, specialising in utilising storytelling to bring humanity back to the workforce. Anecdote is now unique in having a global network of over 60 partners in 28 countries, with their learning programs translated into 11 languages, and customers who incorporate these programs into their leadership and sales enablement activities.


  1. Kam Amilthan says:

    I just read the science of storytelling. I highly recommend it. The paper highlights what happens to the brain when story elements such as moments, surprises, sequencing are added. Why stories increase trust and why stories make the message memorable.

    A good paper for those logical people who require evidence to believe. From my perspective it helps me to remember to use the story elements and its impact in influencing people.

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