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Listeners More Persuadable When Using Headphones Vs. Speakers, New Study Shows.

Are radio hosts or podcasts more likely to make a closer connection with their audience when listening is done on headphones as opposed to with speakers? Just-released research suggests this is the case.

A series of studies conducted among more than 4,000 participants by researchers at UC San Diego’s Rady School, UCLA, and UC Berkeley found that audio messages heard while wearing headphones make a deeper and more intimate and emotional connection – and can be twice as persuasive – as those heard while listening using speakers, based on a report in The Guardian.

The driver of this greater bond with listeners is the idea that headphones make it sound like the voices are inside one's head, meaning they “trigger a feeling of greater closeness to the person speaking to you,” the study's co-author On Amir says.

The results of one such test showed that participants listening via headphones to a podcast by a CEO of a company providing visual information for the blind were more than twice as likely (30%, vs. 14%) to agree to write a letter in support of the CEO than were those listening on speakers. In another, headphone listeners to a public service announcement about the dangers of distracted driving showed greater concern for the issue than those listeners using speakers.

The inspiration for the study came to one of the researchers, UCLA Anderson School of Management assistant professor Alicea Lieberman, while listening to a favorite podcast, “This American Life” in her car as opposed to the usual headphones. “I remember being like, ‘Oh, I don’t feel the connection with him that I normally feel when I listen through my headphones,” she says. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute, why is that happening? And what does that mean for how I actually perceive these stories?”

As to whether headphone listening has helped make popular podcast hosts such as Joe Rogan or Ben Shapiro more influential given the study's findings, Lieberman says, “You could imagine if somebody really disliked Joe Rogan – hand raised – and I was more likely to feel reactive to him, then I might have a stronger negative reaction and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, don’t put him in my head, I want to get away from this person.’”

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