Jun 14, 2021
Most of us don’t give a lot of thought to how and
when we listen to podcasts. But like most of life, an intentional
approach can reap benefits. In this episode, Josh Russell walks us
through: strategies for maximizing retention, listening based on
brain state, new data on listening while driving, the value of
Guest Bio: Joshua Russell, MD
is clinician, writer, and educator. Since completing
residency training in Emergency Medicine, Dr. Russell has had a
varied career including supervising PAs and NPs as a medical
director for a regional Urgent Care network, contributing to
various Hippo Education podcasts, and serving as the
Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Urgent Care Medicine (JUCM). Most
recently, he has completed fellowship training in Hospice and
Palliative Medicine at the University of Chicago Medical
This episode is in support of the
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I AM ALS was founded by Brian Wallach and his wife Sandra shortly
after his diagnosis at the age of 37. He was given 6 months to
live, and now 4 years later he is leading a revolution to find a
cure. People often refer to ALS as rare, which is not really so.
The lifetime risk is around 1 in 300. Since Lou Gehrig was
diagnosed 80 years ago, available treatments have been shown to
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research, legislation to fast track therapies, and provides
critical resources to patients and caregivers. ALS is relentless,
and so are they. The question is no longer if we'll find a cure for
ALS, but when. This is an underfunded disease and every little bit
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for your daily dose of positivity, follow Brian on Twitter.
Strategies for maximizing
retention of podcast content [04:20];
to educational podcasts when your mind is fresh, such as when on
your way to work rather than commuting home after a long
limited amount of attention is relatively fixed, but it does
depreciate as the day goes on and our energy wanes.
choose to listen to podcasts during “interstitial time”, like when
driving, exercising, or grocery shopping. You’re more likely to
retain information if you’re doing a task that doesn’t require your
How your working memory is like
the RAM of your brain [08:40];
like a computer will become bogged down and slow when it’s
overloaded, so too does your brain processing speed diminish when
your working memory is doing something fairly simple, like driving
down the highway, then you have a fair amount of residual attention
that you can spend on something like listening to a podcast. While
driving through a busy city, however, the residual attention is
going to be much less.
Why Josh prefers to listen to
podcasts in the morning as this is when he is best able to focus
is often trying to cram podcasts into the interstitial spaces of
life, but he finds that his mental ability to focus and vigilance
are highest in the morning. This is the time that it makes the most
sense to devote attention to something that involves integrating
new information. As his ability to focus wanes, it becomes less and
less productive to listen to informational podcasts.
Similarly, it is common for people to do their “deep
work” (that which requires the most attention) during the morning
hours and “shallow work” later in the day.
The importance of using your
brain for tasks that are appropriate for the state that it’s in
we first wake up, the vigilance that we have is very helpful for
detail oriented tasks where we have to focus and pay attention.
Conversely, we’re not so great at coming up with creative and
innovative solutions to problems at that time.
the day goes on and attention wanes, napping or taking a deliberate
break can help restore vigilance.
Towards the end of the day, we do better at solving
creative problems and “thinking outside the box”.
The fact that not every
interstitial moment needs to be occupied by something educational
or entertaining [15:55];
lot of the insights that we have come from quiet moments when we're
actually not focused.”
How Rob consumes podcasts
road trips or long drives with his wife, they will pause and
discuss points that come up. There is a spaced repetition element
to this, but it also enhances the listening
educational podcasts (of which this is one) he reads the show notes
and occasionally reads the linked references.
deciding which podcast to listen to, first looks at the podcatcher
summary and time stamped topics to see if it’s interesting. The
title doesn’t always reveal what’s inside.
Educational podcasts only when fresh, such as on the
way to work. If had time, would teach pearls from that show to the
Usually, it’s not so high brow, it’s listening while
cleaning the garage or folding laundry.
A recent study
which evaluated the knowledge gained from listening to podcasts
while driving compared to that gained from undistracted listening
authors presented 2 competing theories for this type of knowledge
acquisition and tried to determine which applied to driving and
Limited capacity theory: “Humans have a limited capacity for the cognitive
processing of information, because humans have finite resources
available for learning. Each simultaneous task theoretically
reduces available cognitive resources and may decrease their
potential capacity for learning.”
Theory of threaded
cognition: “Tasks that do
not require the same form of cognitive processing (e.g. walking and
talking) may not compete for the same resources, thereby allowing
for the performance of two distinct tasks without inhibiting the
success of either component.”
was a randomized, crossover trial of 100 emergency medicine
residents who listened to an educational podcast either while
driving or when sitting undistracted in a room. After each podcast
they took a test on the content.
findings: There was no significant difference between the driving
and undistracted cohorts on the initial recall (74.2% vs. 73.3%) or
delayed recall (52.2% vs. 52.0%).
Bottom line: Getting your education or trying to learn while driving
seems to be an effective strategy, at least as far as retention
The value of silence
some of the interstitial cracks of time in your life open or free.
Don’t fill all of them with things like podcasts.
“Sitting in silence can have a
rejuvenating, calming or stilling effect.”
One of the most famous studies
on the effect of silence was
published in 2006. Study subjects were exposed to 5 different types
of music of varying tempo and type, from slow sitar to fast
found that passive listening to music accelerates respiratory rate,
increases blood pressure and raises heart rate. The sympathetic
activation of music was proportional to the tempo of the rhythm.
The authors theorized that it was the level of concentration and
attention that led to the arousal and sympathetic
most striking part of the study was that a randomly inserted short
pause of 2 minutes decreased blood pressure, minute ventilation,
and heart rate. This relaxation effect was even greater than that
seen at the end of 5 minutes of quiet relaxation at
Bottom line: Inserting a few minutes of silence had a significant
effect on relaxation, even more than listening to what is
ostensibly relaxing music. Further, the effect of interspersed
silence had an even greater relaxation impact than just baseline
levels, giving importance to the contrast between listening and
functional MRI study which shows that listening to a
story-based podcast lights up huge areas of the brain
A study in mice
which found that 2 hours of silence per day led to neurogenesis
whereas background or white noise didn't [29:00];
this study, the nerve growth was in the hippocampus which is
associated with memory, learning, emotion, and memory. The results
infer the benefit of silence.
Gottlieb M, et al. Maximizing
the Morning Commute: A Randomized Trial Assessing the Effect of
Driving on Podcast Knowledge Acquisition and Retention. Ann Emerg
Med. 2021 Apr 27:S0196-0644(21)00162-1. Epub ahead of print.
Bernardi L, et al. Cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and
respiratory changes induced by different types of music in
musicians and non-musicians: the importance of silence. Heart. 2006
Apr;92(4):445-52. PMID: 16199412.
AG, et al. Natural speech reveals the semantic maps that tile human
cerebral cortex. Nature. 2016 Apr 28;532(7600):453-8. doi:
10.1038/nature17637. PMID: 27121839.
Kirste I, et al. Is silence golden? Effects of auditory
stimuli and their absence on adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Brain
Struct Funct. 2015 Mar;220(2):1221-8. PMID:
Shownotes by Melissa Orman, MD