Creative content, the modern "man's" therapy

by - March 14, 2018

After way too many glasses of white wine shared with a friend one Saturday evening, oversharing and emotional snippets of advice exchanged by two very confused 20-somethings, we came to the conclusion that the consumption of creative content might have taught us more about life than the most capable psychiatrist ever could.

When I first started watching Grey's Anatomy in 2005 for example, my twelve-year-old mind never could have grasped the impact the stories would eventually have on my way of thinking as a young adult. I've grown up with the mistakes, drive, relationship trials, and friendship tests of five whip-smart, talented but naive doctors. Or so I initially thought. In actuality, I've grown up with several writers, researchers, actors, producers, directors, etc. in my mind over the years. All of whom who have lived different lives from different backgrounds and cultures, eager to share their wealth of knowledge with the world through creating great content. Yes, this is subjective and you are more than welcome to insert whichever substitute that you'd like, but the message remains the same.

People are constantly taking for granted the impact that great storytelling can have on an individual. They dismiss the consumption of it as something that should only be done when there is time, when you have nothing better to do or when you absolutely have to. Content, based on reality and current events are placed higher up on the scale of importance because people need to be informed of everything that is happening in the world, which is completely understandable. But what people fail to realise, is that content in the form of storytelling becomes crucial to the ways in which people process that constant stream of information. Because how does one process the events that occur or have led up to a devastating event, such as a school shooting, for example? If all you've ever been exposed to are the horrifying facts on the news and the opinions of others around you, are you ever going to be able to see beyond the hurt? As humans, we look for people to blame when things go wrong and if you can't blame the person responsible, you move to the people close to that person without a second thought as to how little they were actually involved. This is where a movie like "We need to talk about Kevin" comes into play. People are allowed to feel their feelings, I'm not saying there's only one way to look at a situation, but what fact-based content lacks is different sides to a human story. And when it comes to human stories, there is nothing less black and white.

Paul J. Zak, Ph.D., and Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University explains in his article, "How Stories Change The Brain", that emotional simulation is the foundation for empathy and that it is particularly powerful for social creatures like humans because it allows us to rapidly forecast if people around us are angry or kind, dangerous or safe, friend or foe.

Creative content actually provides consumers more information that in normal circumstances would only be available to people close to a situation. This information and representation lead to less biased ways of thinking. As a frequent consumer of creative content, I can say that I've become a more well-rounded thinker. I've experienced bits and pieces of different situations through the experience and the telling of others which has allowed me to act in ways that I probably wouldn't have with only one perspective. There have been moments and days where I've sat down to watch a show and walked away with something far more important than a great story. I've walked away with 'insight' that has pushed me through events that seemed impossible. I've had thoughts derailed completely because of a character's actions in a similar situation and I've learned lessons without having to experience the extent of certain pains.

Facts, logic, and carefully constructed arguments can fail you when human connections are missing from the narrative. Strangers are brought together and the possibility of a more empathetic lineage is created through the stories that we consume on a daily basis. Zak refers to this connection as an effect of oxytocin released in the body which makes us more sensitive to social cues. The research he conducted while monitoring the consumer's response to Ben's story, which chronicles a boy's fight against cancer, found that nearly all of the people whose bodies released oxytocin during consumption donated a portion of their earnings from the experiment.

The consumption of creative content has been proven to influence our decision making. It can stand in as your psychiatrist, your best friend, a parent or even a teacher. You can be told what to do or what to think, you can even be convinced by statistics or quantitative studies, but stories show you a specific image that allows you to come to a conclusion organically, which has the ability to have a longer lasting impact. Your actions and your decisions remain your own, but you've already grown through your consumption whether you've realised it or not.

So, next time someone informs you that you need to spend less time in front of the TV, with your nose in a book or with earphones in, think about sharing what you've learned in the last half an hour and keep the essence of storytelling alive. To quote Zak, "[G]
o see a movie and laugh and cry. It’s good for your brain".

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