Working in collaboration with Audible, researchers from University College London conducted a study to find out the physiological impact of auditory vs. visual storytelling. The study, led by Dr. Joseph Devlin, the Head Of Experimental Psychology, revealed that that listening to audiobooks is more emotionally engaging based on heart rate and body temperature than watching scenes from film and TV adaptations.
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 electrodermal 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 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.
- 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.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.