Coughing twice as likely in concerts

30 January 2013, 10:24

Despite the need for quiet in classical concerts, audiences are more likely to cough in a concert hall than in every day life, a German academic has claimed.

Classical music audiences may have a reputation for being refined and polite, never clapping between movements or disturbing the magical mood in the concert hall. But it seems audience members are a noisy bunch, who are twice as likely to cough while attending a concert than in every day life.

Andreas Wagener, a German economist investigating the phenomenon, said: "Concert etiquette demands that audiences of classical concerts avoid inept noises such as coughs. Yet, coughing in concerts occurs more frequently than elsewhere, implying a widespread and intentional breach of concert etiquette."

A normal adult coughs around 16 times per day. In the concert hall, however, the average audience member coughs around 0.025 times per minute, or 36 coughs over the course of a day - more than double the normal cough rate.

Anyone hoping to relax and enjoy a slow movement or quiet passage in the concert hall should probably abandon hope of experiencing a cough-free performance: the volume of coughing increased if the music was slower, or if the piece was complex and atonal. Fast music, or more harmonious, familiar music was less likely to be punctuated with annoying sounds.

Wagener also found that involuntary noises such as sneezes, hiccups and yawns were rarely heard in the concert hall. He's suggested the increase in noise might be part of a human desire to participate in the concert, or even a way of commenting on music they don't like within a rigid concert framework - it's much more socially acceptable to cough than shout, or walk out of the concert hall.