Highlighted sections are areas of the brain that were more active when participants
read stories dealing with their protected values. Courtesy of Sarah Gimbel/USC
(January 9, 2016) Brain scans show that stories that force us to think about our deepest values activate a region of the brain once thought to be its autopilot.
Everyone has at least a few non-negotiable values. These are the things that, no matter what the circumstance, you’d never compromise for any reason – such as “I’d never hurt a child,” or “I’m against the death penalty.”
Real-time brain scans show that when people read stories that deal with these core, protected values, the “default mode network” in their brains activates.
This network was once thought of as just the brain’s autopilot, since it has been shown to be active when you’re not engaged by anything in the outside world – but studies like this one suggest that it’s actually working to find meaning in the narratives.
“The brain is devoting a huge amount of energy to whatever that network is doing. We need to understand why,” said Jonas Kaplan of the USC Dornsife Brain and Creativity Institute. Kaplan was the lead author of the study, which was published on Jan. 7 in the journal Cerebral Cortex.
Kaplan thinks that it’s not just that the brain is presented with a moral quandary, but rather that the quandary is presented in a narrative format.
To find relevant stories, the researchers sorted through 20 million blog posts using software developed at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies.