Storytelling and our Limbic Brain–Our Urge to Create Social Maps

John Mayer talking about how he writes music, what drives him, and what drives him crazy, like people who try to “map” him.

John Mayer hates when reporters do it; Bob Dylan stopped giving interviews because of it, and Kim Kardashian can’t get enough of it due mainly to her understanding and ability to exploit social media.

Kim Kardashian, by contrast, loves the process of people “keeping up” with her and her world.  It validates her, her lifestyle, her family, and earns her boatloads of money.

Bob Dylan, pre-social media and the 24/7 news cycle needing to feed the beast, had no desire to deconstruct his life, much less his songs:

But the urge continues either way: we want to know what makes our celebrities tick.

Evolutionary psychologists think they know why. It’s our limbic system–that part of the brain that is comprised by a complex system of nerves and networks in the brain, involving several areas near the edge of the cortex concerned with instinct and mood. It controls the basic emotions (fear, pleasure, anger) and drives (hunger, sex, dominance, care of offspring).


And it is in the limbic system that drives us to make connections–with our emotions, our thoughts, our moods, and our desire to make sense of the world though making maps of these patterns or in the case of how we think and understand other people–narratives and social maps.  Therefore when something comes along that demands our attention to either like, trust, fear, dislike or other, we want to understand it and then tag or “map” it.  Massive, automatic neurochemical chain reactions drive this process, both powerful and inescapable. They drive our behavior as well.  It also drives the people on the “mapee” side crazy sometimes, as in the case of Messrs. Dylan and Mayer, and hungry for more, as personified by Kim Kardashian in hoping the world will never cease wanting to “keep up” with her and all those in her world and like her.

Storytelling is part of that quest for narrative and what makes the world tick.

It so happens that a book about staying healthy into our later years, Younger Next Year, the authors Dr. Henry Lodge and Chris Crowley, pay a great deal of attention to the need to keep our storytelling side alive and well by engaging these neurochemical processes to create continuing activity, both emotional and physical.

And they are not alone.  Researchers are finding that those looking on the bright side of life also live longer, thereby allowing them to look on the bright side of life longer.  That’s a bargain I’ll seriously consider taking.

Oh, and by the way, here are the seven steps Dr. Lodge believe will give you the basis for a longer and healthier life, or, as he terms it, becoming “younger next year”:

  1. Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life.
  2. Do serious aerobic exercise four days a week for the rest of your life.
  3. Do serious strength training, with weights, two days a week for the rest of your life.
  4. Spend less than you make.
  5. Quit eating crap.
  6. Care.
  7. Connect and commit.

Don’t expect “Picture of Dorian Gray,” but on the other hand, he ended badly.  No soul-selling required with “Younger Next Year.”

Here’s a link to the Younger Next Year book:


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