SPR in The Big Easy

by theaudioprof on September 23, 2012

I’m writing this while sitting in the Indy Airport waiting for the shuttle to take me back to Bloomington and my family. There is a distinct feeling of Fall in the air that I don’t remember feeling when I left on Tuesday. And there certainly wasn’t a feeling of Fall in New Orleans, the site of this years society for psychophysiological research conference.

Ask many of the faculty and grad students that work in the ICR to name the conference they would choose if they were limited to one a year, an I think it might be this one. I know that would be my answer. I always get food ideas for new ways to look at my own work (or the work of my students) from the fresh scientific perspectives on display by the keynote speakers , the panel symposia and the comments that I get by people dropping by my poster presentations of my own work.

This year the ICR attendance (current and alum) was lower than many years. But that meant I was able to spend good times with Rachel Bailey, Justin Keene, Justin’s friend and new South Dakota faculty member Brandon Nutting.  There was even brief sighting of a Lab Rat alumnae Dr. Satoko Kurita!

The work I presented was a continuation of the investigations of whether the Orienting Response that occurs when listeners are exposed to changes in the audio stream habituates after several repetitions. Think of it this way:  We know from past studies that when a radio station plays a jingle between songs to identify themselves that listeners automatically pay a little more attention to the broadcast. But what happens after a listener has had the radio on for an extended period of time?  Does the second jingle you hear automatically capture attention?  What about the third?  By measuring how the listeners’ bodies reacted while they listened, we could actually see that their heart rate responses reacted remarkably different  with each successive jingle that was played. So look at this picture.

When people have an orienting response, that is, when they automatically pay attention to something new coming into their environment, their heart rate slows down over the course of about 6 seconds.   The picture above is similar to what we get when we average the heart rate reaction after 3 different jingles listeners heard over the course of a 40-minute radio broadcast.   See the nice deceleration?  That might lead a Program Director to say “Great!  The jingle captures their attention and the will hear what station they are listening to.”

Your Automatic Response to Jingles Changes

But now, look at how the heart reacts differently depending on whether you are listening to the first, or second, or third jingle during your time with the station. (Click on the picture…it will be clearer up close!).  By the time they hear the third one their heart ACCELERATES!  This type of response is not an orienting response but something known as the Defensive Response. This is what your heart does when it is trying to block out information from further processing!  Not a good sign if you are trying to get listeners to not only know that they are listening to your station but wanting them to feel positive about the station itself.

Now, realize that in this experiment the actual jingles played were rotated across different listeners. So it’s not the case that there was one particular jingle that everyone hated. What they were defensive toward was the third time the jingle was played.  The conclusion is that jingles might not always help you so much as get your listeners to feel like your station is interrupting their music mix to do a little chest-thumping…

Another things that makes all of this even more difficult is that a Program Director has not real way of knowing…like we did in this experimental protocol…how long an individual listener has been listening to a broadcast.  We don’t know when they tune in to the normal broadcast.  Of course, it is technologically possible to know when people who are listening via streaming tune in.  And we know what the likely listening pattern of a podcast listener will be.  There are immediate ways to apply the results of this work to those types of audio productions.  Limiting the use of repetitive jingles would be a good recommendation.

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