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What is more engaging – TV or an audiobook? The answer is hardly surprising

Posted June 27, 2018

We look into entertainment for a reason. We seek to feel and experience something new, we want emotions and we want something to tickle our brain. But if it is that that you‘re looking for, movies and television may not be for you. Scientists from UCL found that audiobooks more engaging than films or television in this way – they create a more intense physiological and emotional reaction.

Audiobooks are very convenient – you can fit thousands of them right on your smartphone. Image credit: Jan Evert via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

These types of entertainment are all about story telling. Television and cinema present everything in a very immerseful and yet somewhat flat way – through visual information. It does work and people obviously love it. However, there are other ways to tell a story and one is auditory. Scientists conducted a study, involving 102 participants aged 18 to 55 to gauge the physiological impact of auditory versus visual storytelling mediums. They selected scenes from popular fiction pieces, such as Game of Thrones; Girl on the Train; Silence of the Lambs; Pride and Prejudice and Great Expectations. Results were less than surprising.

These experiments showed that listening to audiobooks produces a stronger emotional reaction to watching stuff on a screen. In fact, results were noticeable to participants themselves – they stated that they less engaged watching movies and television. However, scientists paid attention to physiological reactions as well – they measured heart rate, body temperature and skin conductance when listening to audiobooks compared to watching scenes from films and television. And again, they found that audiobooks created stronger responses, which basically means that people were more involved in the auditory story telling. These results were observed across all genres of literature and across all age and sex groups of listeners.

These findings, as interesting as they are, are not really surprising. Receiving information through one particular medium means that brain has to engage in other ones – you have to work your imagination more. Don Katz, Audible founder and CEO, said: “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”. This research was actually commissioned by Audible, but methods used and results seem to be objective and expected.

Sure audiobooks are more engaging and stimulating than visual information from the screens. However, we would like to see a similar research comparing audiobooks to old-school traditional paper books.


Source: UCL

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