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Here's what a podcast can do for your brain



We’ve been telling each other stories since humanity was first invented. It’s what our brains like to do. We’re designed to be social, to make connections, to feel empathy for other people. And now we can chuck on a pair of headphones and listen to pretty much any podcast we want. So, what’s it doing to our brains? 


A study published in the Harvard Business Review shows that when we hear great stories, neural activity in our brain increases, pumping out feel-good chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins into our bodies. 


Dopamine is released when we experience an emotionally charged event – making it easier for us to remember accurately. So, the podcasts that make us laugh, gasp and cry? Those are the ones we’re going to remember. Dopamine also enhances focus and motivation, while endorphins help us become more relaxed and creative. Oxytocin builds trust, empathy, generosity and bonding. 


Maybe that explains why it’s so easy to get obsessed with our favourite podcasts: we’re chemically coded for it. Great stories produce the kind of neurotransmitters that make us binge through the next episode, then the next, and the next.

Maybe that explains why it’s so easy to get obsessed with our favourite podcasts: we’re chemically coded for it. Great stories produce the kind of neurotransmitters that make us binge through the next episode, then the next, and the next. Give us more of the thing that makes us feel trusting, motivated and uplifted!


When we’re hooked up to a podcast on a treadmill at the gym or in the car on the way to work, listening can seem like a solitary kind of activity. But it isn’t. There are the people telling their own stories. The people producing those stories behind the scenes. And all the other listeners we’re sharing the experience with.


Well, neuroscience has something to say about that as well. Princeton researchers have shown that the brain of a person telling a story and the brain of a person listening to it can synchronise, instantaneously mirroring activity in the emotional regions and the frontal cortex.


Ideas, thoughts and emotions have measurable, physical effects – and they’re shareable. Between storyteller and listener. And among audience members, too. We can’t see everyone who’s sharing a podcast experience with us, but at some point, our brains have synced. Perhaps that’s why we’re so keen to recommend favourite podcasts to our friends. We want to shape their brains the same way ours have been shaped.


Generating chemicals and carrying out synchronised routines is a tiring business, so research tells us we only pay attention when it matters. When processing facts, only two areas of the brain are activated. But a well-told story can excite multiple areas of grey matter – including the motor cortex, sensory cortex and frontal cortex. 


What does this tell us? Something as simple as a good yarn on an audio file can stimulate our brains and help them feel good. No wonder we’re obsessed with podcasts. We’re wired that way.

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