Most people can attest to the fact that getting lost in a great book can make time seemingly fly by. But one recent study suggests there might be an even more engaging medium: podcasts.
Using an MRI scanner to track brain activity—and “The Moth Radio Hour” to stimulate it—researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, were able to map the brain as people listened to and made sense of a story.
What they found was that absorbing a story requires a network of activity across the brain; each individual word and concept summons a web of associations and memories.
“Consider the case of just the word ‘dog,’” Dr. Gallant told the New York Times. “Hearing that is going to make you think about how a dog looks, how it smells, how the fur feels, the dog you had as a kid, a dog that bit you on your paper route. It’s going to activate the entire network for ‘dog.’”
For the study, seven participants listened to more than two hours of “The Moth” while their brain activity was recorded with a brain scanner. Each episode of the podcast included first-person tales of love, loss, serendipity, adventure, and other relatable concepts.
The researchers broke down the stories based on units of meaning: social elements, locations, and emotions. Each category repeatedly triggered the same parts of people’s brains, causing the brain to literally light up with activity.
“Widely dispersed sensory, emotional and memory networks were humming, across both hemispheres of the brain; no story was ‘contained’ in any one part of the brain, as some textbooks have suggested,” wrote the New York Times.
All that activity adds up: the more activated your brain is at any given moment, the more seamlessly time passes. Need to make a bus ride go faster? Plug in to a story.