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On Stage: Theatre Neuroscience


The holiday season has arrived, which means we are eating, we are drinking, and we are as merry as we can make ourselves. If you are already making promises to exercise more to fight off the cookies and eggnog, you might be pleased to hear that going to the theatre actually burns calories.

The University of Lancaster joined forces with University College London in association with Encore Tickets to study heart rates and brain activity among West End theatre audience members. The results showed that heart rates were raised between 50 and 70 percent for 28 minutes, which is pretty close to the standard recommendation of 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise. So go ahead and have that piece of pie, and then go to the theatre.

Not long after this study was released, University College London neuroscientists teamed up with Encore Tickets to research heart rates and skin responses to a West End production of Dreamgirls. What they discovered is that when the audience responded emotionally to the performance, their heart beats sped up and slowed in unison. Previous research has indicated that when human bodies are synchronized in this way, as is frequently found among couples and successful teammates, they are more prone to like and trust each other. So take that cousin, that sibling, your aunts and uncles, your moms and your dads, and see a show this season for an entertaining bonding experience.

Every theatre in town has a holiday show onstage this month. Enjoy.