WATCHING a live show is much more thrilling than a TV show or film.
That’s the finding of a study by scientists at University College London (UCL). They analysed the heart rates and sweat glands of spectators watching a theatre production and a movie, and the differences were significant.
Audience responses were studied during a live performance of the musical Dreamgirls and the film adaptation of the same show. Some 70 people aged 18-65 took part in the research.
The results showed that heart rates go up and down as a story we are watching develops. But the heart rate’s highs and lows were highest and lowest when people were witnessing the live show rather than the film version.
Professor Joseph Devlin of UCL explained why: “A big part of the live performance is that we are fundamentally a social species. Any time you go to a live performance, whether it’s a concert or a show, people often talk about the energy or the buzz of it… but what is it exactly?”
Devlin found a remarkable answer – within a group of spectators, people’s hearts start to synchronise (working at the same rate), and we start to feed off the responses of others around us. So when we see audience reactions such as gasps, claps, laughs or cries, we are more likely to do the same. This is known as ‘emotional amplification’. We feed off the energy of both the performance and the crowd around us. This, Devlin says, “leads to greater audience engagement and produces the higher highs and the lower lows”.
The size of the audience is a big factor in how much of a thrill we get – even with films. The study found that watching a movie with friends or family, for example, is a more engaging experience than watching
it alone. But the emotional highs and lows still don’t come close to watching a live show.
In 2017, UCL researchers found that watching live theatre can stimulate our cardiovascular system (the system that pumps blood around our body) as much as doing 28 minutes of exercise!
What do you think? Do you find yourself getting more involved in a story if it’s live? Do you prefer watching films with friends and family?