A UC-led study released Tuesday found that using headphones over listening to the audio on speakers has a significant impact on listeners’ perceptions, judgments, and behaviors, which could have implications for advertising, remote work, and training programs, researchers found.

“We find that headphones produce a phenomenon called in-head localization, which makes the speaker sound as if they’re inside your head,” according to study co-author On Amir, professor of marketing at UC San Diego Rady School of Management. “Consequently, listeners perceive the communicators as closer — both physically and socially. As a result, listeners perceive the communicator as warmer, they feel and behave more empathically toward them and they are more easily persuaded by them.”

The findings, from UCSD, UCLA, and UC Berkeley, were replicated in five different studies that included both fieldwork and online surveys with more than 4,000 participants. All of the studies in the paper revealed that headphone listeners felt a closeness to the speaker, while others tested the medium’s impacts on empathy and persuasion.

For example, one experiment utilized the Amazon Mechanical Turk platform to survey 1,310 adults who listened to a clip of a mother and daughter talking about being homeless. Participants were randomly assigned to listen to the audio either on headphones or on speakers. According to the researchers, those who listened to the clip with headphones reported they felt more empathy toward the speakers and that the mother and daughter came across as more genuine, compared to those who listened to the same audio on speakers.

Researchers said the implications of the paper are far-reaching given the increasing rate of auditory messages and virtual communication.

“If the aim is to have listeners feel close to the communicator, or be particularly persuaded by their message, such as in a public service announcement, managers should consider placing their advertisement or message on a program often consumed via headphones, like a podcast,” said Alicea Lieberman, assistant professor of marketing at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. “On the other hand, if a message does not require listeners to experience any feelings of closeness to the communicator, then where the message is placed (e.g., podcast vs. talk radio) would be less essential.”

Amir added that companies could send employees headphones to encourage their use in phone conversations, as the medium could increase collaboration, especially in the era of remote work.

Headphones also facilitate a more loyal and engaged audience for on-air personalities, the researchers found.

“Clearly, our research suggests that influencers, bloggers, and podcasters want to try to make sure that people listen by headphones because that creates that attachment,” Amir said. “Our research proposes that it is not only what or whom people hear that influences their judgments, decisions, and behaviors, but also how they hear the message.”

–City News Service, Inc.