University College London Study Shows Listening to Books is More Emotionally Engaging Than Viewing Films or TV

Participants Experienced Heightened Physiological Responses with Stronger Heart and Brain Responses when Listening to Audiobooks vs. Viewing Screen Adaptations

NEWARK, N.J.--()--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.

“Audible was founded because we believe deeply in the impact that powerful listening experiences can have on hearts and minds”

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

About UCL
Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world's top universities, as reflected by our performance in a range of international rankings and tables. According to the Thomson Scientific Citation Index, UCL is the second most highly cited European university and the 15th most highly cited in the world. UCL has nearly 27,000 students from 150 countries and more than 9,000 employees, of whom one third are from outside the UK. The university is based in Bloomsbury in the heart of London, but also has two international campuses – UCL Australia and UCL Qatar.

About Audible
Audible, an Amazon.com, Inc. subsidiary (NASDAQ:AMZN), is the leading provider of premium digital spoken audio information and entertainment, offering customers a new way to enhance and enrich their lives every day. Audible was created to unleash the emotive music in language and the habituating power and utility of verbal expression. Audible content includes more than 425,000 audio programs from leading audiobook publishers, broadcasters, entertainers, magazine and newspaper publishers, and business information providers. Audible is also the provider of spoken-word audio products for Apple’s iTunes Store.

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