University College London (UCL), London’s oldest university widely known for its highly regarded research, announced the results of a study today that indicates listening to audiobooks is more emotionally engaging than watching film or TV. Working in collaboration with Audible, the world’s leading provider and producer of spoken-word entertainment, UCL researchers tested scenes from well-known stories across crime, sci-fi, fantasy, action and classical genres on 103 participants aged 18 – 67 to gauge the physiological impact of auditory vs visual storytelling mediums. In-depth analysis of physiological data, as well as participants’ biological response, revealed that listening to audiobooks on Audible elicited a more intense physiological and emotional reaction than watching a screen. Across all genres and demographics, the study revealed no discernible difference in results between different genres, or between participants of different demographics.
Segments used were from eight blockbusters and bestsellers: A Game of Thrones, The Girl on the Train, Pride and Prejudice, The Silence of the Lambs, Great Expectations, The Da Vinci Code, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Alien. Specific scenes were tested based on emotional intensity, comparative length and similarity of narrative (i.e. minimal differences in the storyline between audio and video adaptations). Researchers tracked conscious responses to the audio and video clips through a variety of surveys, while measuring heart rate and electrodermal activity with Empatica E4 biometric sensors. These two physiological signals can reveal cognitive processing and sub-conscious emotional arousal in the brain.
“Listening to a story on Audible produced greater emotional and physiological engagement than watching the scene on a screen, as measured by both heart rate and electro-dermal activity,” said Dr. Joseph Devlin, Head of Experimental Psychology at UCL and lead researcher on the project, “Though participants surveyed assumed they were less engaged, the biometric sensors indicate otherwise. Having concluded the first phase of our multi-stage study with Audible, it seems as though the heart really does tell the story.”
“Audible was founded because we believe deeply in the impact that powerful listening experiences can have on hearts and minds,” said Audible CEO and Founder, Don Katz. “This first phase of UCL research confirms what millions of Audible listeners already know—the spoken word enthrals, entertains, inspires and most importantly, moves us like nothing else.”
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE STUDY
The statistical evidence was very strong (over 99% certainty) that audiobooks produced a stronger emotional and physiological response than visual storytelling mediums. This finding is consistent across different stories, and different participant ages and demographics. These fluctuations in heart rate, body temperature and skin conductance – measured using Empatica E4 biometric sensors fitted at the wrist – suggest increased emotional engagement with auditory stories on a physiological level.
Participants’ average heart rate was higher when they were listening to audiobooks by about two beats a minute (mean difference = 1.7bpm).
Participants listening to audiobooks also had a higher peak heart rate during the story, by about 3.5 beats per minute (mean=3.52 bpm).
They were roughly 2 degrees warmer in their body temperature (1.66°C), and their skin conductance (EDA) was higher by 0.02 microsiemens when listening to audiobooks.
UCL’s research team cross-referenced accelerometer data with participants’ heart-rate data to rule out increased movement/fidgeting as a possible explanation for higher heart-rates whilst listening to audiobooks.
UCL’s research showed that audiobooks produced more consistent patterns of physiological change than films or TV clips, suggesting that the format may give authors better control of the emotional responses of their listeners.
Findings from the study have been published on the bioRxiv preprint server and are available for review by the scientific community here. Numerous organizations, scientific research groups and academic journals – including the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust and Nature – support the use of preprints as part of the peer review process. The research will be submitted to a peer reviewed journal in the coming months.
For a detailed report, including visualisations of the survey, heart rate and electro-dermal data, please visit: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/early/2018/06/20/351148