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Stories, Handwork, and More Neuroscience

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

Listening to stories together can synchronize heart rhythms in the listeners; this is more effective when the listeners are able to maintain focus, and the ability to maintain focus predicts the ability to recall and remember the story. This phenomenon is not related to the synchronization of breathing rhythms, and this heart-rate synchronization happens even when listening to a story alone, if the listener is paying attention. Most remarkably, these heart-rate fluctuations can help to reveal the state of consciousness in unresponsive (e.g. comatose) patients!

The authors write “simply following a story and processing stimulus will cause similar fluctuations in people’s heart rates. It’s the cognitive function that drives your heart rate up or down.” The effort and ability to follow the narrative thread will result in physiological changes. The study demonstrates that this is true whether emotions are involved or not. Listening to a long story like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or watching a short instructional video produces the same results.

The researchers found that fluctuations in heart rate predicted how well the listeners remembered the content of the narrative. “Neuroscience is opening up in terms of thinking of the brain as part of an actual anatomical, physical body,” one of the study’s authors says, “This research is a step in the direction of looking at the brain-body connection more broadly.”

Where do we see this in Waldorf Education?

Story-telling is used by Waldorf teachers - all the time. Kindergarten and EC teachers regularly tell a story, day after day, easing the cognitive flow for the young children by telling the story practically verbatim, and without dramatic emphasis on any part of the story. The smooth flow of the narrative is not interrupted by heightened feelings or discrepancies in tone or descriptive details which could detract