Remember your childhood times, when you used to get lost in the bedtime stories. The characters, the dreamy land, the story, the friendship, and the adventure intrigued every one of us when we were young. The most interesting part is when we have memorized every minute detail of the story! This is how the neuroscience of narrative and memory creates a long-lasting experience.
Many children like to read the same story again and again so that they can exactly predict what comes next. And yes, they take immense pleasure-the pleasure of being right-in it. This childhood effect of wanting to learn new things through story and listening to the same story again for correct prediction encompasses various effects on the narrative and memory.
The experiences we feel when we listen to a narrative-by reading or listening- become the solid foundation of long-term memory. These experiences also support a creative environment for the brain to learn and remember more efficiently. Further, these conditions build emotional connections that help in constructing a strong memory-holding template.
In addition, the familiarity of the narrative becomes a long-term memory model. This fosters easy and fast retrieval of information whenever necessary. Therefore, the understanding of the neuroscience of narrative and memory become crucial to promote efficient learning.
POSITIVE EMOTIONS: UNDERLYING NEUROSCIENCE OF NARRATIVE AND MEMORY
Listening to stories while becoming cozy in bed is a very pleasurable experience for children. Sometimes, the warmth of the bed, the cozy snuggling under the blanket or the environment of the bedroom remains etched in a child’s mind. This happens because the emotions have blended with the memory. In simple terms, emotional connection fosters strong memory.
As per the science behind memory and narrative, for information to become a memory, it has to pass through the ‘emotional filter’ (amygdala) and then to the prefrontal cortex. But if a student is stressed, anxious or overwhelmed the passage gets blocked and information cant turns into a memory. On the contrary, if positive emotions-happiness, pleasure, calmness-are invoked during learning, information retains for long.
Hence, the invoked positive emotions helps in creating better memory and maintains the calmness of the mind while learning. For a child, the strong emotional experiences remain as an intrinsic experience throughout life.
As a result, whenever they retrieve that memory, their associated emotions also get invoked. Simply, the emotional state gets resurfaced when the same narrative is experienced or heard.
Additionally, listening to the same book over and over and guessing the outcome correctly engages the reward center of the brain and releases dopamine. This ‘feel-good hormone’ then induces a feeling of pleasure and deep satisfaction.
The neuroscience of narrative and memory suggests that this system of reward is particularly generous in young children or students. Even when they know the outcome of the story, still they will feel rewarded when the prediction goes right.
FRAMEWORK FOR NARRATIVE AND MEMORY CONSTRUCTION
Most of our stories from childhood are linked with an emotional connection. Deeper is the emotional connection, the stronger is the memory. It also reveals the pattern and framework of how narrative and memory are constructed. Our brains stores information in the memory based on the patterning system (repeated story, the relationship between ideas, relevance, etc).
Hence, this framework or pattern system facilitates us in interpreting the world based on our prior real-life based experiences. It also signals our mind whenever a known incident or experience has repeated itself.
Generally speaking, there are four parts of a narrative:
- THE BEGINNING: “Once upon a time, there lived a shepherd…”
- THE PROBLEM: “ One day his son got lost in the forest. Anxious, the shepherd began finding him.”
- THE SOLUTION: “Finding his son without any plan was a foolish plan. So he decided to follow his footprints”
- THE ENDING: “ The shepherd found his son sleeping near the river under a banyan tree. Upon finding his son, the shepherd was relieved and felt happy. He hugged his son and they lived happily ever after”
In this way, whenever the new information is taught in the format of this narrative, a strong narrative and memory link is formed. This further promotes better retention of the information. Though the information will take the definite pattern of narrative, yet the information can be from any source e.g. algebra, literature, science, etc.
As time passes and the student learns more narratives, the pattern also evolves. Now the pattern is no longer the same as always “and they lived happily ever after”. But rather different that gives students a chance to discover more and experience uncertainty. He also unveils more opportunities and possible outcomes for the varying pattern of narrative and memory.
SAMPLE NARRATIVES FOR CLASSROOM
“ Rohan was a very hard working boy who is always attentive in class and interested in reading books. Apart from this, he also loved playing cricket and excels in it. At home, he does his daily chores from cleaning his room to maintaining his study table.
“His parents use to give him pocket money based on this overall performance, both inside and outside school. It was like an allowance he gets if he does his daily chores. When he turned 15, his parents decided to give him a choice.
“The choice was: either his allowance can be increased to Rs.200 a month. Or have the money accumulated in a month e.g. if he started with Rs.10 on the first day of the month it will be doubled and will continue in the same pattern till 30 days.
“Excited to hear the amount Rs. 200 all at once, he chose to get Rs. 200 instantly. What would you have chosen if you were at the place of Rohan?”
Let the students choose what they think is a better choice. This will teach them the concept of compounding and will strengthen their narrative and memory.
“There was a man named Archimedes. He was puzzled by the question of why the level of tub rises when he gets in. This question intrigued him for long. He used to wonder about the magic force that may have been acting. Until one day, when he suddenly step out from the bathtub amidst bathing and started shouting “Eureka!”
Tell this story or other familiar stories that draw a connection between narrative and memory. This technique will help students build a better understanding of the subject through story-telling. Teachers can also give the same challenge to students. Give each of them a coin and a cup of water. And ask them why the level of water changes when the coin is at the top vs when it is at the bottom?
“Every one of us loves to fly high in the sky in an airplane. The blue sky, cotton-like clouds, and miniature landscapes are an absolute delight to the eye. But do you know who invented the first airplane? It was the Wright Brothers. They were the first to fly an airplane made out of woods”
Teachers can also use news resources to keep students aware of the current happenings. Let them be aware of new discoveries, space missions, etc. Teachers can also tell them a brief account of the satellite missions that went successful in history.
Weaving narrative and memory by blending information with the story is a surefire way to keep students engaged and interested. According to neuroscience, it also leads to stronger memory due to the emotional juice that gets mixed with the experiences.