The science behind asymmetric intimacy

Sent by Jonathan Stark on May 7th, 2020

Yesterday, I shared the idea of “asymmetric intimacy”, which is a term I use to describe the feeling of friendship and trust that can develop in a person who spends a lot of time listening to a podcaster.

This feeling is not some theoretical construct I made up, or merely something I have observed in myself as a podcast listener. As someone who has been podcasting continuously for the better part of a decade, it is something that I have experienced first hand.

The majority of my clients, customers, and students report that they came to know and trust me first as a regular listener of one of my podcasts. On initial phone calls, I’ve had plenty of people surprise me with comments like, “I can’t believe I’m actually talking to you!” like I was some kind of rock star or something. It still feels weird to me, but it doesn’t surprise me anymore.

Well guess what?

It turns out that there’s some science behind this phenomenon. It’s called “parasocial relationships” and was recognized as far back as the 1950’s. Here are a few relevant excerpts from Wikipedia:

In 1956, the term “parasocial relationship” was coined by Donald Horton and R. Richard Wohl. They focused on the psychological attachment that was formed from viewing television personalities. A parasocial relationship develops after repeated exposure to a media persona causes a media user to develop illusions of intimacy, friendship, and identification. Media personas have a significant amount of influence over media users, positive or negative, informing the way that they perceive certain topics or even their purchasing habits.

Yes, this is exactly it!

(Thanks to Scott Gould for sharing the parasocial relationships article with me!)

Of course, podcasts didn’t exist in the 1950s. The original study focused on TV, but the phenomenon is the same. And producing a podcast is WAY cheaper and easier than producing a TV show or any other video-based media.

Okay, so let’s do the math:

Given this information, everyone who owns a business should probably have a podcast.

So why don’t they?

Here are some of the big objections I’ve heard:

If you have been thinking about starting a podcast, but have been held back for one of these reasons, stay tuned. Tomorrow, I’m going to address each and every one.