Audience members’ heartbeats, breathing speeds and even degree of sweating synchronise when they watch a classical music concert together.
Wolfgang Tschacher at the University of Bern in Switzerland and his colleagues monitored 132 people who were separated into three groups to watch different concerts of the same symphonies – Ludwig van Beethoven’s Op. 104 in C minor, Brett Dean’s Epitaphs and Johannes Brahms’s Op. 111 in G major – while wearing body sensors.
Various measurements became more synchronised during the concerts, such as the participants’ heart rates, breathing speeds and their skin conductance, which measures how much someone is sweating based on their skin’s varying electrical properties.
Prior to the concerts, the researchers asked the participants to complete a personality test. They found that this synchronisation was more likely to occur among people who considered themselves to be agreeable or open.
“Openness is a personality trait of welcoming new experiences – liking art, travel and exotic things,” says Tschacher. People who are agreeable may be more likely to “fulfil social expectations”, such as concentrating on a concert while in the audience, he says.
Tschacher expects that this synchronisation would also apply to non-classical music genres and would probably be stronger still outside a trial setting. Due to covid-19 restrictions at the time of the experiment, the audience members were socially distanced. In a normal music concert, where audience members often engage with one another, the synchrony may be more pronounced, he says.
The timing of the participants’ breathing, such as when they inhaled and exhaled, didn’t synchronise, however.
Otherwise, you might think that a synchronised heart rate somehow leads to a synchronised breathing pattern, says Daniel Richardson at University College London. Instead, perhaps a person’s heart rate is influenced by their enjoyment of the music, he says. “That’s an intriguing idea that needs to be explored more.”