Podcast listening may help people fulfill their social needs, according to recent findings published in PLOS One. The study found that people who listened to more podcasts per month reported a greater presence of meaning in life and those who formed parasocial relationships with hosts reported a greater sense of relatedness.
Podcasts are becoming increasingly popular around the world. These audio recordings cover a wide variety of topics like news, education, comedy, health, and spirituality making them appealing to all kinds of personalities.
Study authors Stephanie J. Tobin and Rosanna E. Guadagno wanted to delve deeper into the types of people who listen to podcasts, the way they listen to them, and their reasons for listening. The researchers also wanted to study the outcomes of podcast listening, suggesting that the practice might help fulfill basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
“In relation to the amount of research on social media use, there wasn’t much on podcast listening,” explained Tobin, a senior psychology lecturer at Queensland University of Technology. “As an avid podcast listener myself, I wanted to know more about who listens and what they get out of it. I wanted to study it before everyone was listening, so we could compare listeners to non-listeners.”
Tobin and Guadagno distributed an online questionnaire to 308 adults from various parts of the world including the UK (22%) the United States (14%), and Portugal (14%). The respondents completed various personality measures like the need to belong, the need for cognition (the extent that people enjoy thinking), and the Big Five personality traits.
The participants were also asked if they had ever listened to a podcast. If they had, they were then asked various questions about their listening habits. To assess potential outcomes of podcast listening, participants were next asked questions regarding their basic psychological need satisfaction, the extent that they feel and search for meaning in life, their mindfulness attention awareness, and their susceptibility to smartphone addiction.
According to the results, 78% of participants had listened to a podcast before. These participants had been listening to podcasts for an average of 3 years and 3.5 hours per week. In their analysis of the data, the researchers next examined whether certain personality traits predicted podcast listening.
When examining each predictor separately, participants with higher openness to experience, internet-based curiosity, and need for cognition were more likely to have listened to a podcast. The study authors say this suggests that people who listen to podcasts have higher informational needs, and that podcast listening likely allows them to explore new topics and engage in effortful thinking.
Within a model that included all Big Five personality traits, openness to experience positively predicted podcast listening while neuroticism negatively predicted podcast listening.
“We examined informational and social aspects of podcast listening. We found that people who were more open to experience, more curious, and who enjoyed thinking more were more likely to have listened to a podcast,” Tobin told PsyPost.
Unexpectedly, the number of hours per week spent listening to podcasts was not linked to the psychological needs of autonomy, competence, or relatedness. Hours spent listening was also not related to presence of meaning, search for meaning, mindfulness, or smartphone addiction.
“People with a higher need to belong were less likely to have listened to a podcast,” Tobin said. “The need to belong finding was surprising – we had predicted that those with a stronger need to belong would be more likely to listen, given the social aspects of listening.”
However, listening to more podcasts per month and higher social engagement with podcasts was tied to greater presence of meaning in life. Additionally, forming a parasocial relationship — a one-sided connection between an audience member and a media character — with podcast hosts was associated with higher relatedness. Relatedness is the basic psychological need for social connection and belongingness.
“Among those who listened to podcasts, people who listened for more hours per week were more socially engaged with podcasts and had stronger parasocial relationships with their favorite podcast host,” Tobin explained. “Parasocial relationships were associated with greater relatedness and more social engagement was associated with greater presence of meaning.”
These findings are not surprising since previous evidence suggests that entertainment media can help fulfill basic psychological needs and that parasocial relationships offer people a sense of belonging. “Our findings support the idea that podcasts can provide informational and social gratifications to listeners… We conclude that informational needs likely motivate podcast listening and that certain types of listening can provide social gratifications,” Tobin and Guadagno write.
In terms of limitations, the study was cross-sectional which means that it is not possible to draw causal conclusions from the data. Secondly, participants may not have been entirely accurate in reporting their podcast listening habits. Future daily diary studies might offer a more accurate picture of participants’ podcast-listening behavior within shorter timeframes.
“There are many interesting questions I’d like to further examine,” Tobin said. “We’ve been looking at different aspects of meaning in life (purpose, coherence, and mattering) and how they relate to different kinds of social engagement with podcasts. I’d also like to know more about how different kinds of podcasts may provide different gratifications. Some podcasts seem more relational (liked hosts who cover different stories each time) and some seem more goal-oriented (e.g., trying to solve a case). What do people get out of each kind?”
The study, “Why people listen: Motivations and outcomes of podcast listening”, was authored by Stephanie J. Tobin and Rosanna E. Guadagno.