Are Audiobooks Good for the Brain?

We all know that audiobooks are a great source of entertainment, allowing us to binge stories no matter where we are. But aside from their entertainment value, are audiobooks good for the brain? We’re happy to report that audiobooks offer tons of brain benefits — from improved reading comprehension to an expanded vocabulary. Read on to learn more about the benefits of audiobooks, making them well worth the listen for your entertainment and your health!

1. Audiobooks can help improve your comprehension and vocabulary.

Hearing new words — independent of or in combination with reading them — can significantly help with comprehension and vocabulary, especially for kids and second-language learners. Just as early elementary school classes encourage children to new readers to say words aloud, audiobooks promote the same healthy learning habits. Mary Beth Crosby Carroll from The Children's School in Brooklyn, NY, told Scholastic that “following along visually while listening can enhance word-recognition ability, while listening alone can expand vocabulary.” Audiobooks provide unique context clues and intonations that can help readers better understand the meaning and application of specific words.

2. Audiobooks may help our brains better imagine the story.

The vivid images and jump-off-the-page characters in books create a sort of magic, no matter the format. But a study conducted by the Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior found that our brains are actually more likely to create meaningful imagery when we listen to a story — as opposed to when it’s read in a traditional format — because it allows more room for our brain’s visual processes to kick into gear. This explains, in part, why so many younger children love when someone reads to them!

3. Compared to reading, listening to audiobooks can help us attach deeper meaning to phrases.

When you’re reading a book, a lot of focus is placed on filling in gaps: voices, sounds, settings, accents, and more. These are all details your mind needs to create a full picture. Dr. Art Markman from The University of Texas tested whether hearing a proverb versus reading it resulted in a difference in comprehension. The results showed that when we hear a statement like "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," we’re more likely to connect this to other proverbs that have similar deep meanings. But when we read that same proverb, our brain will pick out the literal elements rather than those that contribute to its deeper meaning, making us more likely to associate that proverb with others that mention wheels. According to Markman, because we can't go back and “reread” audiobooks as easily, we’re inadvertently forcing our brains to extract deeper meanings more quickly. In other words, listening to audiobooks enables the mind to comprehend phrases at a faster speed.

4. Listening to a story rather than watching one can spark a more emotional response.

According to a study from University College London, people have a more emotional reaction when listening to a novel than they do when watching an adaptation. When we listen to a story, our brain has to create more content, such as imagery, to supplant the words. This helps create a “greater emotional and physiological engagement than watching the scene on a screen, as measured by both heart rate and electro-dermal activity,” according to conclusions drawn by Dr. Joseph Levin. The science makes intuitive sense ‒ hearing a story read aloud emulates social tendencies and humans are conditioned to communicate with each other auditorily.

5. For readers who have trouble with the physical act of reading, audiobooks may offer a welcome alternative.

Young children, and people with dyslexia, and those who are visually impaired may find that they can retain more of the story when listening to audiobooks than when reading the written word. Matt Davis from the University of Cambridge explains: “Anyone who finds reading difficult… might retain more from listening to an audiobook. The additional effort involved in reading the words uses mental resources that they would otherwise need for comprehension and memory.”

So, are audiobooks good for the brain? Science says yes, giving us all the more reason to grow our audiobook library! Find your next great listen here.