A new study published in the journal eNeuro has found that sharing happy stories can increase feelings of closeness and brain synchrony between speakers and listeners to a greater extent than sharing sad or neutral stories.
A research team led by the East China Normal University compared how emotional stories impacted interpersonal communication and feelings of closeness and connection.
“Our lives revolve around sharing stories with others. Expressing emotion (i.e., happy and sad) is an essential characteristic of sharing stories and could enhance the similarity of story comprehension across speaker and listener pairs,” explained the study authors.
In the study, one participant (the speaker) watched happy, sad, and neutral videos and then recorded themselves explaining the contents of the videos. Other participants listened to the narrated stories and rated how close they felt to the speaker. Both the speaker and the listeners completed the tasks while the scientists used EEG to measure their brain activity.
The researchers discovered that sharing happy stories produced higher ratings of interpersonal closeness between the listeners and the speaker. These stronger feelings of interconnection were linked to increased synchrony between the brain activity of the listeners and the speaker, especially in the frontal and left temporoparietal cortices, which are known to play a fundamental role in emotional processing and interpersonal understanding.
Moreover, the researchers found that the quality of recall after hearing an emotional story was also correlated with the affective pattern of the story. Thus, happy stories were more vividly recalled than the sad ones.
“Our results suggest that sharing happy and sad stories can facilitate interpersonal closeness. Positive emotional information is more likely to be transferred and received by representing a positive image. On the behavioral level, this result further contributed to the reconciliation of the controversy on the effect of sharing different emotional stories on interpersonal closeness. Specifically, our findings show that, compared with the sad group, the happy group showed the better recall quality and led to higher interpersonal closeness,” the study authors concluded.
Further research is needed to map the brain mechanisms that facilitate story comprehension and that help storytellers and listeners connect in meaningful ways.