Your Brain Loves Podcasts

Listen your way to enlightenment

Already given up on your New Year’s resolutions? Hi, please join my club. But it’s never too late to make new ones, especially, if you’re like me, when they don’t involve running. Might I suggest a very simple one: listen to more podcasts. Why, you ask? Yes, there is a podcast/lid for every person/pot, and yes, 2017 was in many ways The Year of the Podcast, and don’t you want to be part of the zeitgeist? But also, in service of self-improvement resolutions: because listening to podcasts makes you smarter.

Some genres are more obvious than others for expanding your gray matter, like history, science, and business/entrepreneurship. If you’re curious about some enlightening recommendations, check out this list from The Independent UK, this deep dive into history from The Bello Collective, this one from Popular Science, or this oddly specific “9 Podcasts That Will Make You 10% Smarter” from Forbes. Here you’ll find some classic choices like NPR’s Fresh Air and Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, as well as some deeper cuts you may not have heard of. So fire up the ol’ podcatcher, sit back, and get ready for these shows to drop some knowledge.

Prefer something a little lighter? A bit easier on the ears? Fear not. Listening to podcasts *period*, in fact, makes you smarter in the exact same way that reading does. Canonical American writer William Faulkner once said,

“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.”

As it turns out, the same could be said about listening to podcasts. In fact, all the way back in 1977, The Journal of Educational Psychology published a study that found students who read a short story versus listened to it showed nearly identical comprehension of the story. And for some, the roughly 30% of the population who are primarily auditory learners, audio does even better. (Figure out if you’re one of them here.)

The human voice also has a more natural ability to communicate with intention than the written word. This is in large part thanks to prosody (the study of the musicality of spoken word and how it contributes to meaning.) We experience this on a daily basis — how many times has your text message sarcasm been misconstrued? The lack of prosody in text goes a long way in explaining why Twitter, Reddit, or the comments section of any website can sometimes be a divisive hellfire. Speech eases friction in meaning, so you can get straight to the education!

I might also argue that listening requires more sustained concentration than reading. When reading, you can go at your own speed, and easily take breaks without missing a word. With a podcast, to get the most out of it you have to pay attention or else you are liable to miss something, and quickly. Listening to a podcast is an exercise in intense focus.

When Dr. Seuss said, “the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go,” podcasts hadn’t been invented yet. And while I would never suggest not reading at all, what I would offer is that listening to an engrossing podcast does great work for your mind too. So, um, I’m really not sure why you’re still reading this — you should be listening to a podcast. Your brain will thank you!


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