Emotions play a critical role in memory formation. The stronger the response the more likely your story will be remembered.
Do you remember where you were on September 11th 2001?
Chances are you’ll recall it fairly vividly.
How about September 10th 2001?
This time you’ll likely find yourself drawing a blank. Why is that?
How are you able to remember one specific day many years ago but you can’t remember what you were doing the day before that day?
It is all to do with your way your memory stores information.
Frankly speaking, the brain doesn’t pay much attention to boring things. This is because they pose little threat to us and therefore we don’t gain much from remembering them.
However, an emotionally charged event stays longer in our memory.
It is also recalled with greater accuracy than neutral memories, because of the release of dopamine by the amygdala. This a primitive part of our brain that is associated with the fear response and memory formation.
This serves a clear evolutionary purpose.
Any dangerous or life threatening experience is committed to memory as a way of ensuring a similar thing doesn’t happen again.
This explains why you can vividly remember what you were doing on September 11th 2001 but not on the previous day.
If you were to experience a similar scenario in the future your memory would remind you that the best chance of survival would be to leave the building as quickly and safely as possible.
As a storyteller you can use this knowledge to your advantage.
Any story that elicits a strong emotional response will be recalled with far greater intensity than one that doesn’t.
The lesson here is don’t make your story boring.
If it’s not strongly appealing to one of the universal six emotions (happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust) or four if you believe this study by Glasgow University then it won’t be remembered.