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#YourCrowd is an initiative dedicated to the study of crowd behaviors and experiences, created and moderated by the strategy team at BaAM.

I recently spoke with Daniel Richardson, Cognitive Psychologist at University College London and Experiential Lead with ACN Labs which uses neuroscience to understand consumer experiences.

I was curious about Professor Richardson’s recent research which showed that people who attend live performances derive very specific benefits from taking part.

“In this study, our client sold tickets to live theatrical performances in London and wanted to understand why people would leave the comfort of their home to go to one of our old Victorian theaters with wonky seats to pay to see a show.

So, we attached physiological sensors – think of the sensors like a more accurate Fitbit or Apple watch – to individuals attending a performance of “Dream Girls” to measure their heart rate and body temperature."

We found that there were peaks and troughs in their heart rates which were synchronized with the action on the stage.

Crowd Clapping

"We also measured the heart rates of people going to the cinema to see the same show and discovered that while their heart rates mirrored the action on-screen, their peaks and troughs were less pronounced.

Finally, we measured the response of those watching “Dream Girls” at home by themselves or with only one or two others and found that their heart rate peaks and troughs were flatter.”

And what exactly does that mean, I asked Professor Richardson?

“Well, it shows that there was higher engagement for those attending a live performance and that attending such a performance has the same health benefits as going for a brisk ½-hour walk."

We also found that the heart beats of those attending the performance synchronized!

Fireworks edit

"This kind of physiological coordination is what happens to people in love – ‘two hearts beat as one’ sort of response.”

So clearly, there are physical benefits to gathering as a part of a crowd to watch something you enjoy.

But in fact, there is even more to it than that.

According to Professor Richardson:

“There was a recent study* which demonstrated tremendous social benefit to going to a live performance.

The study looked at the benefits for collective cultural engagement for people age 50+ here in London. Health conditions and behaviors (like smoking, fitness level and exercising) as well economic resources (relative wealth) were factored out and what was demonstrated was that going to a live cultural event every few months helped to decrease both depression and frailty (the measure of how well an aging individual is able to look after themselves) by 1/3."

This study prompted serious discussion in the UK that doctors might be permitted to prescribe ‘going to a cultural event’ just as they would medication to combat depression and frailty!

Pan AM 1090

I asked Professor Richardson if the same thinking might be applied to live sporting events:

“I think it would be especially interesting to look at how people react physically in relationship to how their team is performing. Is an exciting goal, an exciting goal for everybody in the arena or is the reaction different depending on your team scoring the goal vs being scored on? We’d be keen to find out.”

Daniel Richardson is a Professor of Cognitive Psychology at University College London where his research examines how cognitive processes are grounded in the body, the environment and the social world. He is a pioneer in embodied cognition methods such as eye tracking and biometric measurements. He has worked with the London Science Museum, the BBC, and Google.

Author of Man versus Mind, Social Psychology for Dummies, Richardson has published more than 40 articles in international scientific journals.

Lucy Strong has 25+ years of experience in sports and entertainment marketing on three continents. She’s thrilled to be a member of the Strategy team at BaAM and looks forward to meeting all of you live and in person – when all of this is over.

We know significant research efforts focus on fans and followers as individuals, but with #YourCrowd, we are tapping the brightest minds and broadening the dialogue to better understand factors at play when engaging larger audiences in real life or in digital life.

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