What We Remember

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Professor Robert F. Potter (Institute for Communications Research Company, US) is specialised in understanding how we, as listeners, unconsciously experience audio, music and radio – how we engage with audio, and our ability to remember what we hear. Professor Potter explained that there are two types of attention – one is “controlled” (when people are told to pay attention). The second type is “automatic attention”, which happens very quickly and is an evolved response to something new in the environment, like a whistle blowing. It causes an “orienting response”, which traces back to Pavlov.

Professor Potter explained that if he measured our heart rate, it would jump up at the moment of “novelty in the environment”, then drop down over a number of seconds. So how can we use this? Professor Potter concentrated on the importance of voice changes – jumping between different voices, which causes automatic attention to be paid. But this only works a number of times. After five repeats of the same jump, we “habituate” to it – and it loses its effectiveness. Therefore, using more than one announcer in productions is recommended, especially with only slightly different sounding voices.

He also discussed his research into “Auditory Structural Features” – production effects and jingles. He explained that when jingles were repeated three times in a row, you see an orienting report in the first and second, but by the third time the sympathetic nervous system kicks in and people switch off. His conclusion was that “jingles do habituate and might even produce an aversive response if over-repeated.” So we need to be a little more intelligent about how and when we use them.


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