Neuroscientists have now proven what theatre folk have felt for years. The heart beats of audience members actually synchronize and beat together in unison when watching a live performance of a play or musical.
The research was conducted by the University College London Division of Psychological and Language Sciences. The team studied the heart rates and skin responses of twelve participants as they watched a live performance of Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre on the West End.
The scientists found that as well as individuals’ emotional responses, the audience members’ hearts were also responding in unison, with their pulses speeding up and slowing down at the same rate, regardless of if they knew each other or not.
Dr Joe Devlin, who led the study, said: “Usually, a group of individuals will each have their own heart rates and rhythms, with little relationship to each other. But romantic couples or highly effective teammates will actually synchronize their hearts so that they beat in time with each other, which in itself is astounding.”
According to Encore Tickets, 59% of people say they have felt emotionally affected by a live performance, and 46% say they enjoy the theatre experience because of the atmosphere that comes with being in the audience.
Dr Devlin said, “Experiencing the live theatre performance was extraordinary enough to overcome group differences and produce a common physiological experience in the audience members.”
The study went on to find that couples and friends continue to have synchronized heart beats during the intermission. Dr Devlin explained: “Our hypothesis is that it’s at this point, the intermission, that the audience members are engaged with each other, discussing the show within their social groups. During this social interaction with each other, we can see that their in-group arousal synchronizes with each other but not with the audience members as a whole.”
Past studies have shown that in environments that cause bodies to synchronize in this way, people are more likely to bond and like each other.
“This clearly demonstrates, ” says Devlin, “that the physiological synchronicity observed during the performance was strong enough to overcome social group differences and engage the audience as a whole.”
In other words, this unified beating of hearts when experiencing live theatre can help break social differences and bring people together.
Can there be a higher calling? We don’t think so. We believe theater’s fundamental and most sacred purpose is to bring a diverse variety of individuals to a common place where they share a meaningful human experience together, as one. This new study proves it, physiologically. Our hearts actually beat together.
This beautiful information comes as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving. It reaffirms, for all of us at the Fountain Theatre and to you, how much we are thankful for.