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Middle-Aged, Male, and Highly Educated

Research at Chemnitz University of Technology measures the German-speaking podcast scene for the first time psychologically.

The podcast has had an amazing career.  For many years it had been a niche medium among aficionados, but in the meantime there is hardly any topic that has not been discussed in podcasts.  Exceptionally successful podcasters have their own fan communities and are celebrated like pop stars.  It is no coincidence that one of the most relevant formats for communicating scientific knowledge about the new coronavirus is a podcast that reaches millions of people every day.

A systematic psychological assessment regarding what makes podcasts so appealing and who produces podcasts in the German-speaking areas has been lacking until now.  Christiane Attig, research assistant at the Chair of Applied Geropsychology and Cognition at Chemnitz University of Technology, is targeting to close this gap with an initial study.  The work offers the first insights into the diversity of German-speaking podcast producers and pays special attention to gender differences, for instance, with regard to the topics discussed in the podcast.  Why? "Because the podcast scene itself has repeatedly addressed this issue," explains Christiane Attig. The podcast scene considers itself to be predominantly male-dominated and examines itself critically.

Her findings will be published in the journal kommunikation@gesellschaft. The article is already available as a preprint in German. 

Little demographic data available so far

"Podcasts are becoming more and more popular, not only among listeners.  The number of people producing podcasts is also increasing, making podcasts one of the most important participatory media at present.” With these words, Attig describes the relevance of her research subject.  The researcher noticed that so far few, predominantly demographic data are available to characterize the group of podcasters.

In her study she examined podcast producers with regard to three areas of analysis: demographic, podcast-specific and personality variables.

Using an online questionnaire, Attig collected data from 653 podcasters.  Criteria were mainly the so-called "Big 5", but also other psychological categories such as "need for cognition", "affinity for technology", "communication behaviour" and "political attitude".  "While the Big 5 dimensions describe the personality of podcast producers rather broadly, for example in terms of extraversion or openness to experience, the other traits aim at a more focused characterization.  “Podcasting is more than speaking into a microphone and dealing with technical topics. Often it means thoroughly engaging in topics that podcasters hold dear" explains Attig.  "I therefore assumed that podcasters are characterized by a high affinity for technology, an open communication behavior and a high need for cognition. In psychology, we use this term to describe the joy of thinking, i.e. the desire for intensive mental engagement with new topics and ways of thinking," explains the researcher.

Christiane Attig herself used new media to acquire the necessary data set.  Among other things, she contacted podcasters via social media and won many for her study.

Predominantly male, educated and left-wing oriented - number of female producers is increasing

In her sample, Attig found that the majority of podcast producers she examined were male, middle-aged and predominantly educated.  According to her data, 40 percent were between 31 and 40 years old, around 65 percent had a technical college or university degree, and 73 percent of the people in the sample were male.  "My results suggest that the gender ratio is beginning to change.  The proportion of male podcast producers was significantly higher for many years, now a slow turnaround might become apparent," says Attig.

The semi-professionalism of the producers was demonstrated, among other findings, by the fact that the average respondent spent around six hours for podcast preparation and post-production.  In contrast, the majority, around 77 percent, stated that they followed no financial interests with the production.  The most frequently named podcast genres by far were society/culture as well as games/hobbies, knowledge/science and TV/movies.

With regard to personality traits, a high degree of openness to experience and the joy of thinking as well as a clearly left-wing political attitude stood out above all.  The researcher explains: "These three variables are interrelated and show that the podcasters in the sample are rather progressive, curious and inquisitive.  Podcasting is likely to be particularly effective in meeting these needs.”

In a follow-up article Attig will take a closer look at the motivations of podcast producers and their needs.  "I think that the results will thus not only be relevant for the podcasters themselves and the media science community, but will also provide an insight into the psychological mechanisms as to why people decide to produce so-called user-generated content, i.e. what benefit they gain personally when they deal with complex topics as laymen or semi-professionals.”

Multimedia:  In "TUCscicast (German),” psychologist Christiane Attig talks about helping machines and the psychology of fitness trackers.  In the podcast "TUCpersönlich" (German) Attig talks, among other things, about why she swapped her bookseller's job for science and what her tattoos mean to her.

Further information is available from Christiane Attig, M. Sc. psych., Phone +49 (0)371/531-34964, E-Mail


(Author: Matthias Fejes / Translation: Chelsea Burris)

Matthias Fejes

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