There are many motivations for why somebody might want to start listening to a podcast. An interesting topic or an exciting narrative. A guest or host that you like, doing a friend a favor (because guaranteed you know at least one person with a podcast), or because it’s by your favorite science site. But are there psychological differences between those who enjoy podcasts as a medium and those who don’t? A new study claims yes, there is.
In the study, published in PLOS ONE, researchers had over 300 people fill out an online survey that aimed to apply the so-called Big Five personality traits used in psychology (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness) and other factors (age, gender, curiosity, need to belong, etc) to podcast listeners and non-podcast listeners. They found that, on average, people that listen to podcasts score higher in the openness category, which is related to intellectual curiosity and preference for novelty. Podcast listeners were also found to be on average less neurotic, having a lower predisposition to psychological stress.
“The aim of this study was to identify dispositional predictors of podcast listening and examine the associations between aspects of podcast listening, dispositional predictors, and psychological outcomes. We found that several individual difference variables predicted podcast listening,” authors Stephanie Tobin and Rosanna Guadagno write in the paper. “As predicted, we found that people who were higher in openness to experience, interest type epistemic curiosity and need for cognition were more likely to have listened to a podcast. This indicates that those who listen to podcasts have stronger informational needs.”
They also found that podcast listeners had a lower need for belonging. That together with the lower neuroticisms makes the average podcast listener different from the average social media user. In general, it appears that informational needs are a stronger predictor than social needs when it comes to podcasts.
That doesn’t mean that there is not a social aspect. The scientists found a positive association between extroversion and social engagement, as well as one between agreeableness and parasocial relationship with the podcast host – a one-sided relationship that the listener might form with a media figure or celebrity.
They also found some oft-claimed characteristics are not backed up by the data. More time spent listening to podcasts doesn’t predict greater autonomy, lower mindfulness, or even greater smartphone addiction. On the latter, those who listened to more podcasts and were more socially engaged with them have a higher value, but those who listened to podcasts for many years didn’t.
Limitations to note are that the survey was relatively small and self-reporting, though it was almost split down the middle between male and female responders who were from a wide range of countries, though the highest fraction was from the UK and the US (22 and 14 percent respectively). This means that a causal conclusion cannot be drawn, only the findings reported, and there is the chance that individuals’ answers may have been self-edited.
However, if these insights into podcast listeners’ personalities intrigued you, let us shamelessly plug IFLScience’s own podcast The Big Questions, of which all five episodes of season one are available. Find out about fusion energy, human consciousness, aliens, climate change, and dark components of the universe as we chat to international experts about the biggest mysteries science is seeking to explore. Season 2 will be arriving in just a few short months with even bigger questions to tackle.