E194: Podcasts as a Form of Social Support with Dr. Melanie Finney and Kate Pederson

Episode 194 February 20, 2024 00:25:14
E194: Podcasts as a Form of Social Support with Dr. Melanie Finney and Kate Pederson
The POTScast
E194: Podcasts as a Form of Social Support with Dr. Melanie Finney and Kate Pederson

Feb 20 2024 | 00:25:14

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Hosted By

Cathy Pederson Jill Brook

Show Notes

POTScast listeners took a survey on podcasts and social support. Here are the results - podcasts can help individuals feel less socially isolated and provide them with informational and emotional support. Parasocial relationships between podcast listeners and hosts are also important.

You can read the transcript for this episode here: http://tinyurl.com/potscast194

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Episode Transcript

E194: Podcasts and Social Support with Dr. Melanie Finney and Kate Pederson [00:00:00] Jill Brook: Hello fellow POTS patients and beautiful people who care about POTS patients. I'm Jill Brook, your hyperadrenergic host, and today on POTS Matters, we are going meta with a podcast about podcasts and some findings from a survey in which some of you may have participated. Thank you if you did. Our guests today are an advisor and student team from DePauw University that conducted the survey. Dr. Melanie Finney earned her Ph. D. from the University of Iowa in 1996 and has been at DePauw University since 1994. She teaches in the Department of Communication and Theater. Her research interests include social support and coping with grief, loss, and trauma. And then Kate Pederson is a senior communication major at DePauw. She has been working with Dr. Finney for the past one and a half years, completing independent studies and summer research to analyze if podcasts might function as a form of social support. Regular listeners will recognize Kate as our longtime social media manager, graphic designer, and major, major volunteer, having put hundreds of hours into making many of our graphics, among other things. So Dr. Finney and Kate, thank you both for joining us today. [00:01:16] Dr. Melanie Finney: Thank you. [00:01:17] Kate Pederson: Thank you for having us. [00:01:18] Jill Brook: So as a little bit of background, do you guys mind sort of defining social support? Because I think a lot of people have sort of a general idea of what that means, but I don't know that I know exactly what it means. [00:01:31] Dr. Melanie Finney: Okay, social support can be the provision either through actions or through words that help people feel better is the most basic definition. And the five General kinds of social support that exist are emotional support, which is conveying to a person that they're feeling that they are heard and that they're understood. There is esteem support, which is support designed to make a person feel better. So, for example, if there's a breakup, it's comments such as, he didn't deserve you anyway, or you're still a great person those kinds of things. Then there's tangible support, actually doing tasks or errands for people, providing meals giving rides places, things like that. There is informational support, which is providing information about ways that they can either feel better or know more about the situation that they're facing. So, for example, if somebody has lost a job, perhaps providing advice about job opportunities that they've heard about or skills that they may have that they could get another position. And then the last kind of support is network support, and that has to do with putting people in touch with other people that can help them or assist them, so making referrals, for example, to doctors or clinicians or things like that. And so those are the five general kinds of support, and they can be either verbal or non verbal. So they would include things like hugs or pats on the back or, as I said, the tangible stuff, doing things for people. So that's what social support is, and it's been studied in the field of communication quite extensively. [00:03:14] Jill Brook: Okay. And I imagine it's pretty important. All these things that you're talking about, I guess in my mind, I'm going, wow, this sounds like really important, really helpful stuff. Is that pretty on or any big, big nuances there? [00:03:24] Dr. Melanie Finney: No, I don't think so. I think the, the one other thing I would say about support is it doesn't have to be for a big traumatic event. We also do provide support just in everyday interactions, everyday talk, you know, talking to people and finding out how their day was and what kinds of struggles they're facing or just reaching out so that they feel included. And so it doesn't have to be the monumental kinds of support, but it can also be the everyday functions of talk that just keep people connected. [00:03:55] Jill Brook: Great. So Kate, tell us about how you designed this study. Did you have a specific hypothesis in mind or how did you put it together and what was your method? [00:04:06] Kate Pederson: We didn't necessarily come up with a hypothesis coming into this, but we did have, a sort of inclination that podcasts might be able to provide some of that social support for people who listen to them, because they feel more connected to someone, they feel like someone cares about them and is helping them to gain information. And so, to do this study, we created a 56 question survey through Google Forms. It had open ended and closed ended questions, and we got IRB approval from DePauw. And the questions included things like demographics, gender, age, chronic illness condition, how long you've had that condition. And then participants were asked things like how they felt isolated by their illness, how they sought out informational and emotional support, whether those support needs were met, which podcasts that they listened to, and the relationship to the host on the podcast. So we reached out to the host of health related podcasts and nine podcasts agreed to participate. So we got a 23 percent response rate from that. And those hosts shared the survey with their listeners, either directly through their podcast, like a little promo, or a social media graphic, or through their online support groups. And we had 105 people who completed the study, from 93 being female, so that's 89%. Six were male, five were non binary, and one declined to answer. All of the participants were 18 years or older, and they had at least one chronic illness, and the majority averaging about two chronic illnesses. And they had been symptomatic for nearly a decade. And the most frequent chronic illnesses that were reported were POTS, dysautonomia, Ehlers Danlos syndrome, and diabetes. [00:05:57] Jill Brook: Okay. All right. So this was a big project. And I don't know, I feel like we should have a drum roll or something, but is there anything else to say before we have you tell us the results? [00:06:09] Dr. Melanie Finney: I think one of the things that affected our results to a certain extent is the people that we were actually able to recruit. So, Kate and I, I think we probably sent I don't know, information to maybe 40, 35 to 40 different podcasts that were related to health conditions and not everybody participated. And so the reason why POTS was the most frequently noted or the one that occurred the most is because that was from the podcast that people agreed to actually post our survey. And so That does factor into a little bit of the situation that we had. So there were many other kinds of chronic or invisible illnesses that we did not study, primarily because the hosts weren't as receptive to our study or just didn't get back with us. I would also say that one of the things that we talked about was who not to include in this study. And so we made a conscious decision not to study people with cancer, people with various mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorder and we also didn't study people with obesity. And so we know that there are podcasts for all of those, but we decided that we wanted to make it much more specific to the chronic illnesses that people may not be able to see, or people may not know about. And so that's why we did the chronic or the invisible illnesses. So that's kind of the background about how we decided to recruit our subjects, our participants. [00:07:44] Jill Brook: Okay. Yeah. And I see how, yeah, with all surveys there's always the issue of who's responding. Is it the people who are the most interested in this topic or who have something to say? But that's one of the things we just live with in survey research. So what did you find? [00:08:00] Kate Pederson: Yeah, so we found the first thing we looked at was how individuals experience social isolation. And so 97 percent of respondents felt socially isolated due to their illness. And 90 percent reported that listening to podcasts helped them feel less isolated, so there's a big connection there. And their isolation stemmed from a variety of things. So, the highest source of isolation was lack of understanding by family and friends. So some people would write, you feel like nobody truly understands. Another reason was the lack of social interaction. So some people said they feel like they've missed out on a lot of social experiences. The third reason was feeling alone and disconnected from others. So a respondent wrote, never ending symptoms make me feel detached from community and trapped in misery. And then finally, a lack of understanding by medical professionals increased isolation. So one respondent said that their whole life, their symptoms were misdiagnosed, dismissed, left unconnected to the point of medical gaslighting. So those were really the four biggest sources of isolation that we found. [00:09:10] Jill Brook: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. And I think, you know, it makes sense that people who feel that way would be attracted to podcasts by people who talk about that and understand that and get it. And we actually talk on the podcast pretty often that there is something really nice about just being with other people who completely get you from moment one and you don't have to do a lot of work. And so so that makes a lot of sense. Okay. Sorry, go on. [00:09:35] Kate Pederson: Yeah, so then we looked at a variety of types of communication, so things like podcasts, online support groups, social media, in person support groups interactions with a loved one or interactions with a healthcare professional. And so listening to podcasts was reported as being both the most helpful and most accessible by a majority of the respondents. And so podcasts, among other online forms of support, such as social media and other online support groups. So all of those online mediums were reported to be the most helpful and accessible due to their information that they provide, the convenience of accessing it, and the community, and then the support or care that they give. [00:10:18] Dr. Melanie Finney: think one of the biggest things that we saw in some of the comments was that the accessibility of podcasts was supportive. People could listen when they wanted. They didn't have to get dressed up and go out. If they wanted to listen more than once, they could. And so it was that feature of it being readily available. On their time frame, so if you're in an online support group, you have to show up at a particular time, [00:10:46] Jill Brook: Mm hmm. [00:10:46] Dr. Melanie Finney: or if you're going out to appointments, you have to be there, but podcasts, the accessibility was really, really important [00:10:55] Jill Brook: I get that. Yeah, I don't sleep very well, so I listen to podcasts all night long, and they really help me to feel less lonely. Before I had podcasts, the night felt so long, and now it goes by pretty quickly, so I get that, the asynchronous bit. Okay what else? [00:11:13] Kate Pederson: So something really interested we looked into was parasocial relationships with the host of the podcast. So a parasocial relationship would be if you're listening to the news at 5 p. m. every day and you see Bill on the TV and you feel like you know Bill, like you can refer to him with his first name, so you feel like you have that relationship with him, even though he has no idea who you are. So we thought that podcasts kind of function as the same way, like you don't typically know who the host is personally, but you're still listening to them in your ear, like it's a very intimate thing. And so we looked at that and our results suggested that parasocial relationships with the host of the podcast Correlate positively with informational support. So like getting information or advice about your condition. And then that the informational support is correlated positively with emotional support. So if you're getting that information and that advice, you're also feeling like you have that community, you have that sense of belonging. You feel like you have someone who cares about you. [00:12:14] Jill Brook: Well, yeah, I have a question about that because obviously it sounds great to be able to tap into some of that emotional support whenever you need it. But I guess my question is, is there any concern about having sort of this illusion of all around support? For some of your purposes, like, I guess what goes through my mind is I'm probably at risk for this, where I have some podcasts that I love, I listen to all the time, I feel like I know the hosts, and it can kind of give me this sense of belonging and sense of security that makes me realize that, oh, but wait, they're not bringing me chicken soup if I get sick. I gotta remember that. And so, is there any thing about that where like it's sort of important to remember to keep one foot in your real physical world and nurture those social relationships, but maybe it's easy to ignore those if you have infinite podcast hosts at your fingertips anytime you want. [00:13:11] Dr. Melanie Finney: Yeah, I'll talk about that. I think one of the things that we found and that was suggested, even though We didn't specifically ask this is that people have different kinds of needs, and so in communication there's a theory called uses and gratifications and that we use certain kinds of media or certain forms of communication to meet different kinds of needs that we have. And so if we're trying to get information, we want to go to people that are experts or we want to go to people that know experts and that can help give us the information about our condition or tips for how to get by during a crisis or, you know, oh, here's something that you can try if you haven't done this before. And getting that kind of advice from somebody outside of your immediate contact area. And so people know to use certain kinds of media for certain kinds of needs. And so I don't think that most of your listeners would think, Oh, my host is going to take me to the doctor or bring me chicken soup. But instead that they know that that's a person that they trust and that they believe, and we did see this in the results, that they believe that the host is somebody that is looking out for their best interests. They trust that person. And so what we were wanting and perhaps what could be a follow up study is how strong is that perceived relationship, that perceived parasocial relationship. Does that encourage people to form or to look for other kinds of support outside of the podcast and so that could be for a follow up study but we did see that. I don't think we would suggest that podcasts are a substitute for real life relationships. But, for some people, especially during COVID, when they were isolated from friends and family and social networks, podcasts were a way of letting people feel that they were connected, people in the outside world. So I think that it accompanies, but it doesn't substitute for. [00:15:17] Jill Brook: right, right, and it's funny because I'm flashing back, I had a friend in graduate school you know obviously in graduate school you get so busy and you don't have that much time for a social life, and I remember her saying one time that she had to remind herself that the Seinfeld, the people on the Seinfeld TV show were just fictitious. They were not actually her friends. And I thought, Oh boy, that's sc. AryI don't know if that's really rare or if that's common, but I remembered that she had said that. Yeah. [00:15:52] Dr. Melanie Finney: This is a little off topic, but you know, I think we do sometimes use certain kinds of media to meet those needs, and I don't think it's really a substitute for, but if you think about during COVID, people really started binge watching certain TV shows, and I'm not sure if it was because they felt they had a relationship, but it was something to, oh, I can check in with the story that's going on here. So maybe kind of a form of entertainment, education, infotainment, I think that's one of the words that we sometimes use with podcasts or television shows, that it's providing both functions. So, [00:16:29] Jill Brook: hmm. [00:16:30] Dr. Melanie Finney: interesting story. [00:16:32] Jill Brook: Okay. Any other findings to share? [00:16:35] Kate Pederson: Going along with the parasocial relationship, a majority of respondents said that the host is someone that they trust and that they believe the host knows the type of information they want to know, so that's just going back to that parasocial relationship that indicates it, along with the correlations we found that also indicated it. And we had a a respondent that said podcasts feel like your friend talking to you and offering advice and comfort. . So, like, that's directly showing that relationship there. And then we asked a question on the scale of 1 to 5, how important are podcasts to you? And we got an average of 4. 2, I believe, the response to that. So podcasts seem to be a very important medium for people to get that support. [00:17:25] Jill Brook: Well, and for what it's worth, it's funny because I identify as both a podcast listener and a podcast host. And so everything you said matches with my experience as a listener. And as a host, I do take it seriously that there are people who are listening to us. And I do think of myself as speaking to family members, even though I don't know listeners. I feel like I basically know them. Like we have a lot in common. And if they're listening to this, they have been through a lot of the same things as me. so I would guess I would just say, yeah, I'm super comfortable with that assessment. [00:18:02] Dr. Melanie Finney: One of the comments that we did get that was kind of interesting, we had an area where people could just comment in general if they had anything else that they wanted us to know. And one was that some of the people felt that they wish they had a way that the host could respond back or that they could respond to the host.. So one of the suggestions that we had would be to potentially offer like a discussion board or a bulletin board where respondents, listeners could make comments and kind of go back and forth that way. But technology, that's a hard thing to do, too. You have to have somebody to kind of moderate that, but that was one of the comments was, you know, we wish that we had a way to kind of connect with the other listeners of the podcast. [00:18:51] Jill Brook: Oh, right, right. Yeah, I absolutely get that. Yeah. Okay, so as far as like overall conclusions, were you surprised? Not? Anything you draw from this in a larger sense? [00:19:06] Kate Pederson: I mean, I wasn't too surprised because I have been listening to the podcast and I do feel connected to the host and that makes me feel like I have someone who's Knows what I care about and kind of cares about me to an extent. So the findings do make sense, but I think they're really important because it does suggest that podcasts might be a good form of support for people to rely on. So instead of going into your doctor or into an in person support group, you can just play this podcast, like play and stop it whenever you want, you can be sitting in bed, you can be driving to work. So really anything like that. I think they're super accessible and that's really interesting and that's really helpful. Thank [00:19:48] Jill Brook: So what's going through my head now is, is there anything for podcast hosts to learn? To make podcasts better or more useful or more supportive to their listeners. And I'll have to think about this tonight, but did you guys think of anything? Did you end up with any tips for podcast hosts? [00:20:07] Dr. Melanie Finney: think the feedback loop is one of the things. But if there is a way that you can incorporate that with just a little box that I know most people, you just listen, you don't really engage. But if there would be like a web blog that would go along with it, that people could write questions or comments. So that's one thing. But I think that the biggest thing that I saw was the enormous responsibility podcast hosts have to take it seriously, to provide information to people who may be hurting and may be frustrated, especially with the chronic or the invisible illnesses that are so often misdiagnosed. And as the one respondent said, it felt like a form of gaslighting to be misdiagnosed and not taken seriously. And so, I think if there are podcast hosts who can reach people and say yes. We do know what you're going through. And here are some tips. Here are some questions you might ask. Here's some information that you may find helpful. I think that would be good. I know that in the respondents who had diabetes that they responded with lots of comments about kind of the helpful tips, the day to day tips that they got that were really useful for them. And so I think Those are kind of the, the tips I would give you. Think that you're developing a relationship, even if it's somebody you'll never meet in person, but that this, this is something that matters to people and take that seriously. [00:21:42] Jill Brook: Yeah, that's good advice, and I'm just going to throw out there, I think our listeners know this, but you can email us at research@standinguptopots. org if you have any great ideas about how to set up a forum or a way for listeners to interact and and we could think about that. Offhand, I don't know offhand how to do that, but I'm guessing somebody smart out there does. Let us know if you have ideas. What else? Final thoughts? Are you guys doing any more projects like this? What else? [00:22:12] Kate Pederson: So, I would just like to thank everyone for participating. It was really, really beneficial. And I would say, like, takeaways from the study. The majority of the responses were really positive. So people really do enjoy the podcast. So Jill, the work that you're doing is really, really impactful in people's lives and a lot of people appreciate it. I will be graduating this year, so we're not planning on continuing this research. Dr. Finney will be starting her retirement if she wants to talk about that. [00:22:45] Jill Brook: Ahhhh. [00:22:46] Dr. Melanie Finney: So, lots of transitions for both of us, but I think the one thing that is encouraging is, to the best of our knowledge, this was the first study that had been done looking at podcasts as a form of social support. So we're hopeful that other people will see the value in this and that they will kind of pick up the mantle the way that we have paved the road a little bit and continue on with this research. But I don't think we're going to. We've talked about it, but our lives are being pulled in different directions right now.I really love making this podcast and connecting with others. [00:23:38] Jill Brook: So that's kind of cool. Well, Dr. Finney and Kate, thank you so much for this great information. Thank you for your time. Thanks for all you've been doing for these communities. And we're excited to have you back again sometime soon. [00:23:51] Dr. Melanie Finney: Thank you very much for including us. Kate: Thank you. [00:23:56] Jill Brook: Okay listeners. That's it For now. We'll be back next week. In the meantime, thank you for listening. Remember you're not alone, and please join us again soon.

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