We share stories all the time. It’s a fundamental aspect of human communication. While one may spin a yarn to simply pass time, research lead by John K. Donahue and Melanie C. Green suggests that great storytellers may enjoy extra… social benefits.
Three studies found that women felt stronger attraction to men with higher storytelling proficiency, in essence storytelling ability boosts male attractiveness. “For men’s ratings of women,” however, “good storytellers were not found to be significantly more attractive.”
Evolutionarily speaking, stories may appeal to deeper, primal instincts, where we subconsciously connect good storytelling with higher social standing, or an ability to achieve such. It seems that women just want one thing, and it’s discussing.
Experimenting with Stories
The first study asked 155 participants to rate physical attractiveness based on the provided picture and brief biography, which crucially contained information on their storytelling ability – “good storyteller, moderate storyteller, poor storyteller.”
It was promptly discovered that “men who are effective storytellers appearto have an advantage in attracting long-term mates,” with the implication being that “male storytelling ability may signal resource-gaining prowess to women.”
A second study reinforced these initial findings, this time providing an excerpt of a story. Researchers asked 92 participants to rate a story on both narrative transportation and narrative quality. Once more, results showed that male profiles with good story conditions were “more attractive as long-term partners.
After these preliminary tests confirmed the hypothesis that narrative skills raise attractiveness, “the third study was an attempt to discover why being a good storyteller is attractive to women.”
Using the same materials as the first experiment, 141 participants were asked to rate the attractiveness and social status. “Greater storytelling ability led to perceptions of higher status,” it was found, once more confirming that “women are more attracted to good storytellers.”
The Evolution of Telling Tales
Our dependence on storytelling is well-documented, but why we ever took up the practice is still up for interpretation. One leading theory is that storytelling is desirable in sexual selection, resting on the indisputable premise that creating a cohesive stories is far more challenging than simply reeling off facts.
It follows that the higher cognition required to create rich, inspiring narratives, to fill your fictions with representations, intentions and emotions, gave the rhetorically-gifted a competitive edge for courtship. This is one explanation for why “women may perceive good storytellers as having higher status or the ability to achieve higher status,” as Donahue and Green proposed.
At the same time, holding someone’s attention requires dynamic speech and a great deal of charm. This complements the earlier theory that art developed as a means of attracting a mate, that men would choose to publically express themselves in order to impress and entice women.
Another evolutionary advantage is that the traits required to tell stories correlate with the propensity to gain resources. The storyteller is able to survive and flourish by exercising the superior mental flexibility and reasoning skills that excellent narrative insists upon.
The educational value of story aids the survival of the wider community. Yet on a more spiritual spectrum, storytelling was valuable to the prehistoric community for establishing identity. As literary arts accommodate the formation of the self, both cultural and individual, those able to comprehend and express such structures would have had higher social influence, or even positions of authority.
Using the Secret Power of Storytelling
While the aforementioned studies may appear to have exclusively romantic insinuations, you don’t have to be searching for love to reap the rewards of effective storytelling. Whether you’re a man or a woman, the ability to engage an audience in a presentation situation is an extremely powerful skill.
Well-crafted narratives indicate to others that you are confident, so finding ways of tapping into this skill is imperative for professionals of all disciplines. Leaders commonly use our evolutionary proclivity for stories to make information more memorable or arguments more persuasive.
When public speakers acknowledge and engage our primordial love of language, they present themselves as insightful and inspirational. There are a few essentials to remember when attempting to make stories (and yourself) evolutionarily attractive:
1. Transport your Audience
In their purest form, stories are designed to transport people to situations they’ve not yet actually experienced, with the hope that they might implement the accompanying morals into their future decision-making.
Modern storytellers can uphold this principle by relying on the narrative elements associated with transportation theory, namely vivid imagery and empathy. If you continually create empathetic moments, your audience will lose themselves in your story, which makes your words much more persuasive and impactful.
2. Be Transparent
Donahue and Green briefly explore another answer for why linguistic talent increases attractiveness, arguing that “storytelling ability is a means of gaining information about other traits and abilities of a potential partner.” With this in mind, speakers should aim to be as transparent as possible when telling tales.
Allowing an audience to see your characteristics explicitly, exposing your behaviours and emotions, allows listeners to connect with you. Empathy is a vital component for effective storytelling, so don’t be afraid of wearing your heart on your sleeve. Use emotive language as necessary to appear genuine and heighten the story.
3. Love the Spotlight
When you consider that storytelling relies on intelligence and creativity, and that public speaking is evidence of high self-confidence, it’s not overly surprising that decent storytellers are perceived as more attractive and of higher status.
“A possible alternative explanation of these results,” the paper reads, “is that people are simply attracted more to someone who is proficient in a skill.” Spoken stories offer a richer experience, implying that attractiveness can be influenced by not only the ability to create a plot, but also the effectiveness of delivery.
Captivating an audience, for instance, requires the expert use of speech elements like intonation and timing, along with any number of rhetorical devices. Lean into the idea that people find communicative skills attractive in themselves by expressing yourself purposefully and authoritatively, and loving the spotlight.
Final Thoughts on Storytelling and Attraction
Humanity began with mesmerizing mime, dirt drawings and campfire anecdotes, sure, but even modern conversation, presentation and performance still hinge on our innate attraction towards the power of storytelling, and those who exhibit it.
The link between storytelling and attraction, or more generally that one is able to draw in another through sharing stories, is demonstrative of our ancient affiliation to narrative. While we already knew that stories are naturally arousing, the science has shown that our ‘excitement’ may extend to the individuals spinning the yarn as well.