The Secrets of Storytelling

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Unformatted text preview: ut our evolutionary past. past. tell us something about g evolutionary p Our love for telling tales reveals the workings of the mind Our love for telling tales reveals the workings of the mind To study storytelling, scientists must fi rst define what constitutes a stostudy storytelling, story, and that can prove tricky. Because there are so many diverse forms, tricky. and that there diverse forms, scholars of ten defi ne stor y structure, known as narrative, by explaining scholars often defi ne story structure, known by explaining what it is not. Ex position contrasts with narrative by b eing a simple, Exposition by being simple, what straightforward explanation, such as a list of facts or an encyclopedia entry. Another standard approach defi nes narrative as a series of causally linked events that unfold over time. A third definition hinges on the typical narrative’s subject matter: the interactions of intentional agents— characters with minds — who possess various motivations. STORYTE L 46 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND Au gu s t / S e p te m b e r 2 0 0 8 LLING Children develop “theory of mind,” the ability to attribute thought to other entities, around age four or five. Such ability is crucial for social life — and for enjoying stories. In Another’s Shoes Empathy is part of the larger ability humans have to put themselves in another person’s shoes: we can attribute mental states — awareness, intent— to another entity. Theory of mind, as this trait is known, is crucial to social interaction and communal living— and to understanding stories. Children develop theory of mind around age four or five. A 2007 study by psychologists Daniela O’Neill and Rebecca Shultis, both at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, found that five-year-olds could follow the thoughts of an imaginary character but that three-year-olds could not. The children saw model cows in both a barn and a field, and the researchers told them that a farmer sitting in the barn was thinking of milking the cow in the field. When then asked to point to the cow the farmer wanted to milk, threeyear-olds pointed to the cow...
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