Podcasts – Ear to stay

Our editor Jon Sutton reports of some new offerings, including our Research Digest PsychCrunch and a Society-funded series.

More than a decade ago, writing for The Guardian, tech journalist Ben Hammersley coined the term ‘podcasting’ to describe the boom in amateur online radio. Hammersley pointed to ‘the increasingly loud and clear message from these audio producing sites: that this sort of thing is no longer the preserve of the professional, or the rich.’

Fast forward to 2015 and Hammersley is providing editorial and voice support to a new podcast written and presented by his other half, the social psychologist and broadcaster Dr Aleks Krotoski. Funded by a 2014 public engagement grant from the British Psychological Society, the ‘N of Us’ series discusses aspects of the history of social psychology.

Dr Krotoski said: ‘In science, “N” is the size of the population under the microscope. In these podcasts, that’s Us. What we think and what we do is influenced by the people around us. Here, we tell the stories about why we are the way we are – from why we love who we love, to when we’re at our best.’ The first episode examines social facilitation, the tendency for people to do better on simple tasks when there are other people watching. Episode two tackles interpersonal attraction; episode three is on power.

‘N of Us’ is not the only new treat for your ears. Our very own Research Digest launched episode one of PsychCrunch, discussing studies on dating and attraction, in time for Valentine’s Day. Digest editor Dr Christian Jarrett said: ‘Podcasts are becoming increasingly popular and it’s great to join the party with our own offering. We’re thrilled that our first episode has been downloaded nearly three thousand times already, and we’re currently brainstorming ideas for episode two.’

The Resarch Digest has also compiled a clickable list of psychology podcasts, including long running favourites such as BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind, presented by psychologist Claudia Hammond, and newer efforts such as Invisibilia (reviewed in our March issue).

Also entering the fray are Mosaic Science, and Improbable Research. Mun-Keat Looi, Commissioning Editor at Mosaic, points to a resurgence in interest in podcasts thanks to the hugely popular Serial. But he tells us: 'we've been thinking of podcasts and audiobooks for the past year… we know our stories are longform and by that definition some people find them hard to digest. Audiobooks are very popular because you can listen to a story while doing something else – walking, commuting, doing the housework. Next week's episode is a reading of 'The Mind Readers' - Roger Highfield's story of the scientists trying to communicate with those in a vegetative state [see also our June 2010 issue]. It touches on consciousness and issues of the mind, and is one of our most popular stories. It's also one of the longest, so I'm hoping the audiobook version will help it reach new audiences who were maybe reluctant to read through 9000+ words!’

The weekly Improbable Research podcast is ‘all about research that makes people laugh, then think – research about anything and everything, from everywhere – research that’s good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless.’ For plenty of examples from its curator, Marc Abrahams, keep an eye out for our May issue (as well as revisiting our April 2013 humour special).

Add in a new podcast network from Slate, and it has been quite a turnaround from 2011 (‘Podcasts – who still listens to them?’) to current times (‘Podcasts are back – and making money’). Enjoy your listening, and do comment below or on our Research Digest list if we have missed your favourite psychological podcast. 

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