Research From USC Shows That Audio Quality Influences Whether People Believe What They Hear

A recent study conducted by Newman and Schwarz (2018) (PDF) at USC and the Australian National University highlights a surprising factor that could significantly influence our perceptions of what other people say: audio quality.

The research highlights how incidental sound variables that create a sense of disfluency or cognitive stumble, can impact our impressions of a message and its messenger. While this effect has been observed in various contexts, its potential influence on whether you trust or believe what other people are saying had not been thoroughly investigated until now. The study sought to examine whether poor sound quality could have different effects on our perceptions of people speaking whether in person or virtually.

Experiment 1: Evaluating Conference Talks

In the first experiment, participants watched two conference talks with differing audio quality, one presented with high audio quality and the other with low audio quality. They were then asked to rate the quality of the talks, intelligence of the speakers, likability of the speakers, and the importance of the research being presented.

“As soon as we reduced the audio quality, all of a sudden,
the scientists and their research lost credibility.”

-Eryn Newman

Eryn J. Newman, Research School of Psychology,
Australian National University, Acton, ACT 0200, Australia.

The results were striking. Poor audio quality significantly impacted viewers’ evaluations of both the research and the researchers. Those who experienced difficulty in hearing the talk tended to rate it as worse, the speaker as less intelligent and less likable, and the research as less important. The impact of audio quality was consistent for both presentations, and it even reversed viewers’ preference order, favoring the presentation with better audio quality.

Experiment 2: Evaluating Radio Interviews

The second experiment took place in the context of well-known and highly credible science journalism on NPR’s Science Friday. The researchers manipulated the audio quality of two radio interviews and asked participants to rate the research, competence of the researcher, quality of the interview, and whether they would share it on social media.

Once again, the findings revealed a significant impact of audio quality on participants’ evaluations. Poor audio quality resulted in less favorable assessments of the research and the researcher, regardless of the credibility of the source. Even in a context where the researcher was highly regarded, audio quality overshadowed the content.

Implications For How We Approach Audio Visual and Event Services

These findings carry important implications for communicators in both in-person and virtual environments. Ensuring high audio quality in both live and recorded presentations is crucial, as listeners are likely to attribute any difficulty they encounter to the quality of the presentation and, consequently, the credibility of the message and the person. While it seems like technical limitations may make consistently high audio quality seem like an impossible feat, it is not with the right planning, equipment, software, awareness, attention to detail, ears, and expertise.

Speakers and presenters should be mindful of audio quality when presenting to audiences. Our investment and focus on high fidelity and high performance sound equipment, our background in mastering / recording, our focus on testing / rehearsal, and being proactive in addressing and preventing any potential audio issues before they happen can contribute significantly to the effectiveness of your event and message. By prioritizing audio quality, we can ensure that your valuable contributions are heard and understood.

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