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The Significance of Story in Brain and Mental Health

Paul Grobstein's picture

Background reading


  • Rachel Reiland, Get Me Out of Here, 2004
  • Pamela Spiro Wagner and Carolyn S. Spiro, Divided Minds, 2005
  • Daniel Tammet, Born on a Blue Day, 2006
  • John Elder Robison, Look Me in the Eye, 2007
  • Howard Dully and Charles Fleming, My Lobotomy, 2007
  • Elyn R. Saks, The Center Cannot Hold, 2007
  • Richard Powers, The Echo Maker, 2006 (fiction)


  • William Styron, Darkness Visible, 1990
  • Jean-Dominique, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 1997
  • Susanne Antonetta, A Mind Apart, 2005
  • Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind, 1997
  • Temple Grandin, Thinking in Pictures, 2005
  • Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn, 2000 (fiction)
  • Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, 2004 (fiction)
  • John Barth, Floating Opera, 1957
  • John Barth, The End of the Road, 1958

People experience themselves in ways that are often quite different from how others experience them

  • how people experience themselves = their stories
  • how other people experience them = their actions filtered through other peoples' experiences

Discovering more of other peoples' stories is both possible and enriching

  • "The more I learn, the more I realize more and more that how I think and feel is different" ... Temple Grandin
  • "When I read about autism, I discover I'm autistic; when I read about schizophrenia, I discover I'm schizophrenic; when I read about bipolar disorder, I discover I'm bipolar, and so on" ... Paul Grobstein
  • Stories have causal efficacy, should be used more in mental health profession training?

People's stories are important for how research is done; the stories should and can be changed

People's stories need to be understood as part of brain function and recognized/dealt with in mental health in those terms

Towards understanding stories in terms of brain function

A case in point: Capgras syndrome (through the lens of Power's The Echo Maker)

  • a brain interpretation without story
  • a brain interpretation including story and a new question: why the imposter story as opposed to ?
  • the story matters, independently of the other brain functions that contribute to it

What else is there to learn about mental health from listening to people's stories of themselves?

"[In] all of the five stories discussed here ... [there is] the sense of a second self, one who is not who they really are"

Implications?  To be continued ...