The study, conducted by University College London and the University of Lancaster in association with our partner site Encore Tickets, monitored the heart rates of 12 volunteers using electronic wristbands, as well as brain activity and other psychological signals during a performance of Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre.
Findings showed that during the performance, the audience members’ hearts were beating at an elevated range, between 50 and 70% of their maximum heart rate, for 28 minutes. This is, according to the British Heart Foundation, the optimal heart rate to stimulate cardio fitness and stamina.
Dr Joseph Devlin, the head of Experimental Psychology at UCL, said this clearly demonstrated that “attending a live performance has an impact on cardiovascular activity”.
The study showed that participants’ heart rates peaked just before the end of the first act, and at the end of the performance. These higher peaks reflect the surge of deep emotion and energy seen on stage.
Devlin went on to compare the changes in heart rates to professional sportspeople. He said: “By the end of the first act, heart rates nearly doubled from their resting state at the beginning, while in the second act, it tripled. You see comparable changes in heart rate in professional tennis players during burst of highly intense exertion such as long and fast rallies.”
This scientific study is coupled with research conducted for Encore Tickets, in which 33% of theatregoers surveyed said they find the feeling the live experience gave them was the most enjoyable part of going to the theatre. Despite the findings of the heart rate study, only 15% of people reported noticing a difference in their breathing.
Analysing the results, Devlin said: “Within the results of the heart rate data from the theatre audience, there was a large dynamic range consistent with the fact that being in a live audience increases the emotional intensity of the experience. The results indicate that the highs and lows of the theatre performance allow for a range of emotions that can stimulate the heart and induce heartrate activity that is parallel to an exerting cardio work out.”