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The Effects and Rates of Interpretive Listening in Time-compressed Speech in Audiobooks

There have been prolific studies about audio speed and how it affects comprehension in an educational setting. However, with the rise of audiobook consumption, audiobook speeds and the aspects of language processing that go beyond comprehension and recall have yet to be explored. Would someone be as moved by Shakespeare’s Hamlet if they listened to it at twice the speed? Would Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four be as harrowing to a listener if the audio had shorter pauses in between? The present study employs an experimental design to investigate the rates and effects of interpretive listening in time-compressed audiobooks, more specifically if increased speech rates affected the emotive response of audiobooks compared to the normal speed, by how much, and whether there is a threshold for time-compressed speech that is sustained before the rate of interpretive listening is at a decline. Participants (N=50) that were fluent English speakers and had no hearing impairments were asked to rate their emotive response (using emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, and fear) from a scale from 0 to 100 upon listening to twelve 30-second audiobook excerpt played at rates 1x, 1.5x, 2x, and a truncated condition. Participants also completed a multiple-choice comprehension question after each excerpt was played. The results found that there was a significant decrease in emotive response when the audiobook was played at 1.5x and 2x speed compared to the normal speed. The truncated condition did not have a significant difference in emotive response compared to the normal speed. The results presented also seem to suggest the existence of a threshold for the rate of interpretive listening. Furthermore, results stated that different time-compression rates did not have an effect on comprehension, although this could be due to the short length of each audiobook excerpt. With the ubiquitous audiobook and audio media content, more research is required to investigate individual emotions, develop a more systematic measure of interpretive listening and discover whether certain demographics have the same threshold for interpretive listening.