Sep 27, 2021 - Technology

This is your brain on streaming audio

Illustration of a brain with sunglasses and headphones

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new study done for Spotify shows the surprisingly engaging effect of digital audio and ads on the human brain, Axios can report first.

Why it matters: Neuromarketing technology allows brands to "understand more of what is happening inside of the human mind" as users consume different kinds of media, says Jon Gibs, global director and principal data scientist at Spotify.

  • The results of the study suggest that digital audio and ads seem to generate more engagement and emotional activation than other forms of media — which is a useful insight for anyone selling ads against streaming audio.

How it works: Spotify partnered with the neuroanalytics company Neuro-Insight to study how brain activity changed as more than 600 subjects listened to digital audio on the music streaming platform.

  • The users consumed different kinds of streaming audio — like rock, rap and Latin music, as well as ads — while researchers took real-time readings of their brains using steady state topography (SST), a brain tracking method developed by Neuro-Insight founder Richard Silberstein that measures brain electrical activity and speed of response to stimuli.
  • SST is able to "tap the speed of different parts of the brain very sensitively, and by virtue of the fact that different parts of the brain are specialized for different functions, we're able to infer psychological processes," says Silberstein.

What they found: The study found that digital audio was more likely to engage long-term memory for both details and past memories and increase emotional intensity than radio, TV, social media or digital video.

  • Different kinds of music had a measurably different effect on the brain — speech-driven genres like rap music tended to produce more engagement, while instrumental or acoustic genres like rock tended to produce greater emotional intensity.
  • Notable for a partially ad-driven platform like Spotify, 93% of the brain’s measured engagement with the musical or podcast content transferred directly into engagements with the ads that followed.

What they're saying: "What we wanted to see was if Spotify was a platform that was great for content, but bad for advertisement, or is it all one experience?" says Samrat Saran, head of client solutions at Neuro-Insight.

  • "We found that it was very successful in bringing that engagement over to the ad experience."

The catch: The study wasn't peer-reviewed, which makes its conclusions harder to generalize.

The bottom line: "Our goal is to use signals like this to make sure we're serving music and podcasts to the user that they want before they know they want it," says Spotify's Gibs.

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