New study finds audience heartbeats and breath rates synchronise during a classical concert

6 October 2023, 14:10

New study finds audience heartbeats and breath rates synchronise during a classical concert
New study finds audience heartbeats and breath rates synchronise during a classical concert. Picture: Alamy

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Classical music concerts make audience members’ hearts beat in sync – particularly if they have ‘agreeable’ personalities.

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A new study has found that audience members can start breathing at a similar speed, sweating at a similar rate, and even moving similarly in their chairs when enjoying a classical music concert together.

Wolfgang Tschacher, a professor at the University of Bern in Switzerland, led a study of 132 concertgoers in Berlin, aged 18 to 85.

They were separated into three groups to watch different concerts of the same three string quintets – Beethoven’s Quintet in C minor, Brahms’ Quintet No.2 in G major, and the ‘Epitaphs’ by the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s composer in residence, Brett Dean.

While enjoying the music, they wore a belt with sensors inside. The body sensors found that the audience members became more physically synchronised with each other.

The concertgoers’ breathing rates synced up the most, followed by their heart rate and level of excitement, measured by small increases in sweat on their fingertips.

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Audience members' physical reactions sync up at classical concerts
Audience members' physical reactions sync up at classical concerts. Picture: Alamy

Tschacher said: “It is fascinating that people at a concert, who do not know each other and do not even speak to each other, seem to have a shared experience, based on measurements like their heart rate.

“When we see synchrony, we know people are really engaged in the music, as they are reacting to it emotionally in the same way.”

Before the concerts, the participants were also asked to complete a personality test as part of the study, which has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

People who said that having a good time with fellow concertgoers was an important part of the concert experience, were less likely to have a physically joined up response to the music.

Meanwhile, those with ‘agreeable’ personalities who said they enjoyed new experiences, were more likely to sync up with others around them.

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“Openness is a personality trait of welcoming new experiences – liking art, travel and exotic things,” Tschacher said, explaining that those with more ‘agreeable’ personalities may be more likely to “fulfil social expectations”, like concentrating on the music at a concert.

Even with house lights off, sitting among each other in the dark, people’s movements synced up as they found themselves subconsciously joined together in music.

The study also found that synchronisation happened more when they listened to the Brahms and Dean, compared to the Beethoven.

Previous studies have found musicians and conductors also have synchronised physical reactions to music.

Tschacher also said this synchronisation would likely happen across other genres of music too, and on an even greater level outside of a trial.