But as well as laughing, cheering and maybe even crying along with other audience members, did you know that a theatre performance can actually make your heart beat at the same time as those around you? Not just with the people you know, it can even happen with complete strangers.
Well, new research, conducted by neuroscientists from University College London in association with Encore Tickets found just that. Researchers monitored the heart rates and skin response of selected audience members at a live theatre performance of Dreamgirls, the Tony and Olivier Award-winning musical. The researchers found that as well as responding emotionally to the performance as individuals, the audience actually responded in unison through their heart beats, with their pulses speeding up and slowing down at the same rate as each other.
Dr Joseph Devlin, Head of Experimental Psychology at University College London, says: “Usually, a group of individuals will each have their own heart rates and rhythms, with little relationship to each other. But during experiences with heightened levels of emotion, people’s heart beats can become synchronised, which in itself is astounding.
Devlin adds “Experiencing the live theatre performance was extraordinary enough to overcome group differences and produce a common physiological experience in the audience members.”
Scientists have found that when an environment makes people synchronise their bodies with each other, it can cause them to bond and in turn like each other more.So, could going to the theatre bring you closer to your family or help your date like you more?
Well, research shows that romantic couples and highly effective teammates synchronise their hearts so that they beat in time with each other. Their coordination has been linked to team performance, trust, empathy and liking of each other. This suggests that the unified response seen during the live theatre performance can help to break down social differences and bring people together.
In theory, going to the theatre can connect individuals on a deeper, subconscious level.A new study for Encore Tickets, the UK’s leading independent ticket provider, found that almost half of people (46 per cent) enjoy the theatre experience because of the atmosphere that comes with being in the audience, and almost two thirds (59 per cent) of people feel emotionally affected by a live performance.
Heart rate synchronicity has been researched for a number of years, and previous studies have shown the same kind of synchronicity among other live experiences. For example, people watching fire walking, synchronise their heartbeats in time with the firewalkers themselves. But that’s not all, the synchronicity increased the more closely the walker and watcher were related by family or marriage.
Similar findings were made by University College London when it comes to the theatre. The study found that participants who knew each other continued to synchronise throughout the interval, whilst the other members of the audience fell out of sync without the performance to connect them.
Dr Joseph Devlin says, “This clearly demonstrates that despite the social group differences, the performance was a strong enough influence to cause physiological synchrony, engaging the audience as a whole.”
This follows previous findings drawn from research by UCL in association with Encore Tickets, which found that experiencing a live theatre performance could stimulate your cardiovascular system to the same extent as a 28 minute workout.