It came as a bit of a revelation to me that podcasts really are brilliant but I am clearly not alone. An article published by FastCompany back in 2018 said that there are over 525,000 active podcast shows and over 18.5 million episodes. Statistics also show that up to 33% of the population in countries such as Australia and the USA and up to 58% of the population in South Korea listen to podcasts.
My husband spends most of his spare time plugged into one podcast or another and has always waxed lyrical about them. It is perhaps my stubborn streak that has meant I cut my nose off to spite my face – it’s taken several years of him prodding for me to start discovering my own favourites. Now I find myself telling everyone I speak to about the latest conversation I’ve heard on one of many podcasts.
The question is why, with all our new-fangled developments do we find what is in essence returning us to the old gramophone days so very appealing? This is what I came up with:
- They are good company – in a world where loneliness is on the rise, even for those who are not physically alone – podcasts can help us feel we have the company we may otherwise feel we are missing. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison explain how human speech involves tonal cues which convey emotional colour. Hearing speech of someone trusted (e.g. your favourite podcast host) reduces levels of cortisol (and therefore stress) and increases levels of oxytocin a hormone involved in the formation and maintenance of positive relationships. In short speech plays a role in adult health because it’s so central to the human experience and therefore podcasts can contribute to this.
- They feed our curiosity – what we may often call eavesdropping is seen as a negative. However, in his book Eavesdropping: An Intimate History Professor John Locke explains how eavesdropping has given us an evolutionary advantage. Living in the complex social arrangements we do as humans where a lot of people are competing for things, our ancient ancestors and indeed even us today need to know what’s going on. For example, we may hear that there’s a shorter queue at one supermarket than another during the current lockdown – something that two people may be discussing without wanting the whole world to hear. It’s intriguing and feels a bit naughty overhearing other people, even when they’re speaking so loud that we can’t help but hear. We are somewhat wired to listen in and therefore enjoy it even when the whole purpose is to share the conversation through a podcast.
- There’s no pressure – in normal interactions we tend to worry (a lot more than we realise) that we are being judged by the people we are with. This means we are always slightly on edge and constantly scanning other people’s social cues to try and decipher what they think of us. Again this was hugely important to our ancient ancestors who needed to make sure they belonged in order to survive. When we’re listening to other people who cannot see or hear us that pressure disappears. We don’t feel judged and we’re not worried about what we’re going to say next. We are being accepted by the people we are listening to simply by proxy of not being shut out of the conversation.
- They’re easy – and as humans we love things that are easy. We don’t have to concentrate too hard, we don’t have to sit still staring at a screen (like when we we’re watching TV), we can walk about with headphones or play them in the car. We can listen while we’re doing other things like preparing dinner, commuting, doing housework or even exercising.
- We learn – continued adult learning has been shown to positively impact confidence, self-esteem, self-efficacy, life-satisfaction, capacity to cope and general well-being. Learning also helps us to develop social skills and helps to promote our tolerance of other people. Podcasts enable learning and allow us experience different perspectives (and because we’re not thinking about what we’re going to say next we’re more likely to digest what we’re hearing). Far more varied thoughts and opinions than we are likely to get from our own social circle. An added bonus is that we don’t even have to look interested or pay attention – we can even fast forward or turn someone off – if only that were available for people we were in lockdown with!
Best of all PODCASTS ARE FREE!!
I’m very excited that I’m about to launch my very own podcast exploring the stories of all sorts of interesting people through the lens of psychology.
In the first series of the Dot to Dot podcast ‘Behind the Person’ I will be interviewing innovators, leaders, experts and stars from diverse backgrounds. Listen in to learn about their journeys through life and how they’ve navigated the highs and lows to get where they are today.
Links and refs:
John L. Locke (2010) Eavesdropping: An intimate history. OUP Oxford
Seltzer, L. J., Prososki, A. R., Ziegler, T. E., & Pollak, S. D. (2012). Instant messages vs. speech: hormones and why we still need to hear each other. Evolution and Human Behavior, 33(1), 42-45.
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