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Podcast Listening May Help Satisfy Our Psychological Need for Social Connection: Study

A woman smiling with headphones on

Do you ever find yourself putting on a podcast in the background to fill the silence? You’re probably not alone, according to a new study in PLOS One, which found that podcast listening could help satisfy our psychological need for social connection.

According to the study, people that listened to more podcasts every month reported that they found more meaning in life. Further, podcast listeners that formed parasocial relationships – which is when we form an imagined intimate bond or friendship with someone in the media – with hosts reported that they found a greater sense of relatedness.

Stephanie J. Tobin and Rosanna E. Guadagno, who authored the study, looked at the ways people listen to podcasts and their reasons for listening.

“In relation to the amount of research on social media use, there wasn’t much on podcast listening,” Tobin explained, according to Psy Post. “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.”

Related: 5 essential podcasts spotlighting women in music.

Certain personality traits are linked to podcast listening

In the study, Tobin and Guadagno gave 308 adult participants around the world an online questionnaire. The questions revolved around personality measures, including the need to belong, the need for cognition (or brain stimulation) and the Big Five personality traits: extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism.

In addition to questions around personality measures, the participants were asked if they had ever listened to a podcast and what their listening habits were like.

The study found that 78 per cent of participants had not only listened to a podcast before, but they had been listening to them for an average of 3.5 hours per week for 3 years. After establishing their listening habits, Tobin and Guadagno examined whether there was a correlation between certain personality traits and podcast listening.

Participants who were more open to experiences, had a greater need for cognition and had an internet-based curiosity were more likely to listen to podcasts. Thus, the authors suggest that people who listen to podcasts have more informational needs.


See also: The richest podcasters in 2022 – according to net worth.

“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 concluded.

While podcast listening was linked to having higher needs for cognition, the number of hours spent listening per week was not linked to the participants’ psychological needs.

“People with a higher need to belong were less likely to have listened to a podcast,” Tobin found. “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.”

How is podcast listening linked to our need for social connection?

The study found that participants who listened to more podcasts per month found a greater presence of meaning in their lives. Additionally, listeners who built stronger parasocial relationships with the hosts had a correlation with higher relatedness, which is the psychological need for social connection and the feeling that you belong.

“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 favourite podcast host,” Tobin said. “Parasocial relationships were associated with greater relatedness and more social engagement was associated with greater presence of meaning.”

Ultimately, the study supports “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.”

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