Behavioral Science of Storytelling in Security Awareness Training

What Happens to Our Brains When We Tell Stories

We have been telling stories since the beginning of time, it’s part of our DNA. It’s a really effective way to communicate a message and we do it every single day. A quick trip to the store and even our commute to work, we tell ourselves and others a story about the event.

Think of your favorite movie or show. You can instantly recall it’s characters, storyline, faces, feelings, music, and even sometimes where you were when you watched it.

There is a reason behind this: SCIENCE! But why do we feel so engaged when listening to a narrative of events?

If you sit down and are forced through a Death by PowerPoint presentation with tons of boring bullet points, certain parts of your brain become activated. This is called the language processing part of our brain, where we translate words into actual meaningful concepts. It takes a lot of brainpower to do this, and frankly, most of us aren’t that great at it.

But when we’re being told a story, our brains start to literally light up.

When we are being told a story, the language processing parts of our brains are activated, but something special happens. Other areas in our brain activate when experiencing the events of the story. So if someone tells us how sour a food was, our sensory cortex lights up. If someone tells us a story about sports, our motor cortex activates. Pretty cool, huh?

The Baker Paradox

Imagine this scenario…

A person came up on the stage and was introduced as Dr. Baker. He talked through his presentation and maybe it was even somewhat interesting. But he isn’t. His name, Baker, is just a name on a piece of paper with no relation to you. There is nothing memorable about the name Baker. The result: moments later you forget his name.

Now let’s try this scenario...

A person came on the stage, but something was unique about them. The person was dressed up as an actual baker! You know what bakers look like because you have seen them multiple times in your life. Bakers wake up early, they wear big funny hats, they work hard, they surround us with great smelling food. Maybe you even like to bake yourself. Maybe you have a favorite bakery you are going to head to right after reading this article. We all love bakers!

This entire concept is memorable because we recall from experience, not from words.

Too many times our training programs are designed completely for language processing parts of the brain. Learning requires memory and attention, and without both, you just have a bunch of useless text on slides.

Instead we need to shift our approach from telling employees words into telling them about experiences. We need to tell stories.

Why does Curricula's cyber security awareness training approach work so well?Powerful stories, that's why.

Without having a story of their own, it’s difficult for employees to understand the impact of a cyber attack. Think about it, if you’ve never been in a car crash, or went skydiving, or heck if you’ve never eaten a chocolate chip cookie, it’s hard to relate.

That’s because you never got your own experience and your own point of view. That narrative is the one you tell yourself over and over again. It’s the one you relive and share with others. It’s your story.

Curricula’s security awareness training program helps organizations train their employees on cyber security topics using short, relatable stories about real cyber security breaches. Employees relate to those stories and use them in their conversations both at work and at home.

So the next time you feel that all security awareness training is the same, or no one pays attention to it, we hope you reconsider your approach. Remarkable security awareness cultures are built around stories.

Curricula’s stories become the narrative for you and your entire organization to relate a positive security awareness experience.

Nick Santora, CEO

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