The results of a new study by the University of South California and the Australian National University has shown that the quality of the audio influences whether the listener will believe what they hear and more importantly whether they will trust the source of information.
Norbert Schwarz, a co-director of the Mind & Society Center at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences said...
The findings are significant amid the recent rise of fake news and public distrust in science. When you make it difficult for people to process information, it becomes less credible.
Why We Believe Something: In Audio We Trust
Norbert and co-author Eryn Newman conducted two experiments — one in which they used two YouTube conference videos and a second with NPR Science Friday interviews with scientists.
For the first study, the scientists selected two YouTube conference talk videos about engineering and physics to show to 97 participants. Using iMovie, the scientists altered the sound quality of the recordings and trimmed them into two or three-minute segments.
Then, they showed one video with the good sound quality and the other with poor sound. Afterwards, the participants were asked to rate the talks, from 1-5, worst to best on questions about the talk and the speaker.
When the video was difficult to hear, viewers thought the talk was worse, the speaker less intelligent and less likeable and the research less important.
For the second experiment with 99 other participants, the scientists altered the sound quality of two NPR Science Friday interviews, one with a geneticist and another with a physicist, and shortened the recordings to two-three minutes. Eryn Newman said...
As soon as we reduced the audio quality, all of a sudden, the scientists and their research lost credibility. As soon as we reduced the audio quality, all of a sudden, the scientists and their research lost credibility.
Mental Stumbles Create Distrust
The study which was published on 20th March 2018 in the journal Science Communication apparently is the latest to examine the issue of fluency – the ease with which something is processed – and how it can influence people’s judgments about information and their sources.
Norbert and his colleagues have found that anytime something is difficult to process, people are less likely to trust it. It's not just audio either. In one study he published last year showed that people are more likely to distrust eBay sellers with difficult-to-pronounce names. Another of his earlier studies revealed that people rated exercise plans as easier to do when the instructions were published in Arial font rather than Brush or Mistral fonts.
Eryn Newman, who is a former research associate of the Mind & Society Center at USC Dornsife College, has also found in her work that people are more likely to believe a claim when it appears with a photo — even if the image is unrelated to the claim. Norbert explains...
Fluency is associated with no logical problems and high familiarity. It becomes a shortcut for evaluating important things like: Do I know this guy? Have I heard this before? Anything that makes you stumble, makes the information seem less true.
Apparently, Norbert got the idea for the study after giving a presentation that was videoed. Norbert continues...
If I search for myself on Google, I find tons of videos of myself giving talks, and some are poor quality. The video camera is too far or there is no mic and it really looks terrible. The findings can apply to countless situations in business, such as teleconference and videoconference calls, and job interviews over the phone.
Norbert and Eryn offered this take-away from their study
Next time you are recorded, make sure you have good sound quality. Your credibility depends on it.
What Do We Think About This Study?
There you have it. The quality of the audio matters. We can extend this to the arguments about whether there should be a sound recordist on location, as with news and documentary, this is a real issue and this study shows that if your documentary has poor sound then it is less likely to be considered credible.
This goes beyond factual content. Consider a drama on TV or Netflix, if the dialog is not intelligible, ie the narrative is harder to follow then the consumer is less likely to enjoy or recommend it, and this report shows that it won't just be for the obvious reasons, it will be an unspoken distrust of the narrative, because they had trouble following the story.