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Attention drives impact. Engagement leads to action. Immersion is key.
In our current world of fractured attention spans and media overwhelm, we hear these terms a lot. But how does attention actually get captured for, and why, in this media-dominant age, do long form podcasts drive the greatest impact?
Neuroscience research reveals that the power of long form audio is rooted in its ability to foster a greater sense of imagination from listeners. Switching off from our dominant sense, vision, which rules the sensory hierarchy, naturally frees up space in our minds. It encourages us to create mental images of the audio stories we are listening to.
Attention & Mental Listening
While most might believe our brains are actively choosing what to pay attention to, it’s in fact trying to save resources and optimise energy. This means instead of spotlighting what to pay attention to, it’s actually blocking out information we find distracting. Ever experienced this at a cocktail party, when you have to pay closer attention to a person’s lips as they speak to help filter out the background noise around you? This is attention filtering at work! When we turn the majority of our attention to audio, it actually allows us to free up some mental capacity, because our eyes are no longer running the show.
Firstly, this increased mental capacity means we have more cognitive resource available to listen, which means we can actually pay more attention more easily to what we are hearing. Without a visual aid, we are continually resolving semantic ambiguities within the narrator’s words. For example, when we listen to words in stories, our brains decode whether the narrator is in fact ‘toasting’ a slice of bread, or a friend. This makes listening more active and attentive than watching a video. In fact, our brains invest over 10% more resources when processing audio on its own, and studies have shown that compared to audiovisual content, audio creates more alertness, attention, encoding, as well as memory retrieval.
Co-Creation of Experience
Secondly, long form audio stories allow us to co-create in the experience. Without relying on visuals presented to us on screen, we naturally create our own mental images. Have you ever experienced this when reading a book? It’s the same mechanism which activates imagination, and makes us process the content within a show differently, creating the intimacy we love to feel as humans. Using music and sound design is particularly helpful with this. In fact, 70% of people listening to music experience mental images, which is why sound effects within audio shows are so effective at increasing attention times. All this imagination and intimacy put together makes for an active attention in listeners which is more effective than other forms of media, such as short form audiovisual content.
The Importance of Meaning
Finally, when we invest more effort and create our own mental images of a story, it drives a sense of personal meaning to the experience. We literally invest more of ourselves, increasing meaning-making. Meaning is so important to our experiences because it is how we make sense of the world around us, and our place in it. To grasp the meaning of a story, we have to find connections between words, events, and relationships to ourself. Long form stories are particularly powerful tools for meaning-making, since they force us to co-create the story. Therefore, we have a personal investment in the show that automatically places greater meaning to the experience, cementing it more deeply into our memories.
Long form audio stories work powerfully in the brain. Through the mental effort, imagination and intimacy they create, we naturally feel closer to the experience. In a world where attention is dispersed, long form audio uniquely captures our minds more powerfully than any other medium.
To learn more about the science behind the impact of long form audio, you can listen to the latest episode of Fresh Ears where we talk to Kinda Studios about their research into neuroscience and the effect of audio on your brain: