People say they listen to podcasts to fill in transitions and the silence of doing mindless tasks. That might be the beauty of it — listening to other people’s conversations with their consent. It’s not a stream of consciousness type, too, as podcasts tend to be moderated, and they tackle a wide range of topics. Because of this, listeners learn more about a lot of things — random or not.
It’s a seemingly passive activity while walking, washing the dishes or being stuck in a private car with a chauffeur on one of the busiest roads of London. However, it’s surprisingly stimulating for the brain as podcasts provide so much information in less than an hour. They also bring stories right at one’s fingertips.
How podcasts stimulate the brain
In a Freakonomics episode, This Is Your Brain on Podcasts, podcasters talk about a study by the University of California-Berkeley with one of the researchers, Jack Gallant. In the research, seven people listened to The Moth Radio Hour, which features compelling stories about love, loss and redemption. The participants are in an MRI machine while listening.
The study found that the brain is stimulated in different regions when listening to podcasts. As Gallant explains in the podcast, “The brain areas involved in comprehension, comprehending the meaning of language, are very, very broadly distributed.” He, then, cites the word “dog”. When the narrator talks about barking, the area of the brain responsible for auditory information lights up. When they mention that the dog smells, the olfactory part of the brain is engaged. It’s the same with visuals.
The brain fills in the details when listening to stories on podcasts, so it’s sufficed to say that the brain remains active while doing this seemingly passive activity. Consuming podcasts as a way to fall asleep may not be the best idea, after all.
The benefits of listening to stories
Listening to stories has been around for the longest time, as ancestors relied on oral tradition to pass on anecdotes. Today, we have various means of storytelling, and one of them is the podcast.
The benefits of storytelling encompass literacy, brain health and creativity. Listening to stories is said to put children in a “trance-like state” where they are immersed in the experience of the story’s events. They get to “practice visualisation, cognitive engagement, critical thinking and story sequencing.” Moreover, a community between storytellers and the audience are formed as stories connect people in one way or another.
Listening to stories is a chance to gain insights. As the listener lives through the storyteller, they somehow experience the comedy or tragedy and empathise with the characters. In a way, podcasters provide new perspectives, as there are far too many things in the world that one may not personally undergo.
What used to be the antennae radio and a regular TV talk show has taken on hybrid species in the modern world. With the presence of podcasts, people can listen to stories and conversations anytime, anywhere. In a way, this kind of format has made storytelling more convenient for those who are on the go or just looking for a way to pass the time.