Separating fact from fiction in the digital age – with all the world’s information at our fingertips – is not an easy task. Scientists are only beginning to understand the mechanics of fake news and alternative facts. A popular MIT study published last month found that falsehoods spread much faster than the truth, at least online. MIT researchers, however, seem to have only scratched the surface of what fake news really is and just how susceptible to consuming and sharing “alternative facts” we are.
A more recent study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Communication, gives credence to this sentiment but also takes a leap into what is relatively unexplored territory, at least in how it relates to perception and information processing: audio quality. Dr. Eryn Newman of the Australian National University and Professor Norbert Schwarz of the University of Southern California co-authored a study titled “Good Sound, Good Research: How Audio Quality Influences Perceptions of the Research and Researcher.”
The two researchers wrote the following.
“Increasingly, scientific communications are recorded and made available online. While researchers carefully draft the words they use, the quality of the recording is at the mercy of technical staff. Does it make a difference?”
Two separate experiments were conducted, both on two groups of participants. In the first experiment, both groups of participants viewed video clips of scientists speaking at conferences. The researchers presented identical conference talks. One group of participants heard the recordings in clear, high-quality audio, but the other group heard the same recordings with poor-quality audio.
“When people are assessing the credibility of information, most of the time people are making a judgment based on how something feels. Our results showed that when the sound quality was poor, the participants thought the researcher wasn’t as intelligent, they didn’t like them as much and found their research less important,” Dr. Newman told Australian National University News.
In other words, those who listened to poor-quality recordings consistently evaluated the scientists, as well as their research, less favorably.
The second experiment produced identical results. Newman and Schwarz played audio recordings of radio interviews from the National Public Radio‘s Science Friday. This time, the recordings included introductions and biographical notes of scientists interviewed by NPR. Each scientist was introduced with their qualifications and institutional affiliations, but this made no difference. Audio quality, however, did. Again. Those who listened to low-quality recordings consistently evaluated the scientists less favorably.
“As soon as we reduced the audio quality, all of a sudden the scientists and their research lost credibility,” researchers said. Interestingly, apart from thinking that the research was worse and that the scientists were less competent, participants who listened to low-quality audio recordings also reported finding the scientists’ work less interesting.
This study, the authors concluded, shows that it is not “just about who you are and what you are saying, it’s about how your work is presented.”