The psychology behind festival ‘goosebumps’

As festival season draws to a close, researchers from Harvard are planning on-site experiments to learn more about the psychology of festivals – particularly the ‘goosebump moment’ of euphoria during the very best performances.

Harvard researcher Matthew Sachs is working in partnership with Barclaycard to work on his theories. While many believe it is romance or cold temperatures that cause goosebumps, Sachs says fact, intensity of lyrics, rising pitch, harmonic intervals and collective crowd singing revealed as key factors in delivering the shivers as a part of a pioneering investigation into music and emotion.

The announcement marks the launch of Barclaycard’s Entertainment partnership with Live Nation, which sees sponsorship of eight festivals across the summer and exclusive event perks for cardholders including 10 per cent back on festival pre-sales and many other benefits

Rock music was voted the genre most expected to cause goosebumps (31 per cent), followed by pop (29 per cent) and Indie (7 per cent). House tunes (6 per cent) and classical symphonies (5 per cent) complete the top five.

What’s more, Brits believe that watching their favourite band perform (28 per cent) is likely to deliver the shivers.

The team will also look at the time of day of goosebumps, comparing it to other life events, such as getting married or seeing their newborn child for the first time.

Daniel Mathieson, Head of Experiential Marketing at Barclaycard, said: “Most people can identify with getting the chills while enjoying live entertainment, but very few actually understand the theory behind it. In just the first phase of our study, our goosebumps theory will finally provide some understanding of what causes the incredible phenomenon and makes live music so captivating.”

Matthew Sachs, Researcher at Harvard University, added: “Many studies have attempted to investigate what causes the emotion we feel while listening to music, but these have typically taken place in a lab setting. We’ve never before been able to explore how multiple factors influence the likelihood of experiencing goosebumps in a real-world context. It’s hugely exciting to be able to explore the physiological correlates of aesthetic emotions for the first time during live performances this summer.”

Sites being assessed this summer include Barclaycard Entertainment Live Nation Partnership kicked off with Download Festival, the Isle of Wight Festival, Latitude, Lovebox, Citadel, RiZE Festival, Creamfields and Reading & Leeds Festival to follow.

The results will be revealed by Barclaycard at a later date.



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Editor in chief Suzi Dixon studied at Bournemouth university, went away for a while to work at The Daily Telegraph, then moved back to the sunny South coast for a quiet (er) life. Bournemouth News & Info is her website and she is assisted by the fabulous Fred From France in all things geeky and technical. Hire us to make your website, too, if you like.

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