Live vs. mediated

Those interested in brain science and its value in exploring the cultural experience probably already know Daniel Levitin and his work at the Levitin Laboratory for Music, Perception, Cognition, and Expertise (there’s a Boston Globe article on him here). But those with a specific curiosity about the difference between live performance experience and mediated experience (through film, television, and such), should be tracking his latest project.

This year, he and his colleagues attached electrophysiological sensors to conductor Keith Lockhart, five members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and 15 audience members, to measure their brain activity and emotional reactions during a live concert in Boston’s Symphony Hall. They then planned to use the same devices to measure an audience of a high-quality audio/video presentation of the same performance. The goals of the study are:

  1. To track the communication of emotion over time from the conductor, to the musicians, and finally to the audience.
  2. To quantify differences in arousal and impact between being at a live concert and seeing a broadcast of one.
  3. To characterize and quantify any differences in emotional levels and type of emotion experienced from the conductor to the musicians and the musicians to the audience.

It will be fun and fascinating to see the results. (Thanks, Jenn, for the link.)


  1. says

    Interesting study. In addition to creating and monitoring two groups (live performance/mediated experience), I’d be curious to know difference in emotional reaction among those who:
    1) Have never heard the piece of music
    2) Are familiar with the piece of music
    3) Have played the piece of music
    And then run crosstab of these three elements against whether people are at live or mediated performance.
    I read an article about this study a few months ago. I think the article said that they would monitor audience while they listened to both familiar pieces and more obscure ones – in order to try to isolate different emotional reactions based on likely familiarity with work.
    I’m curious what mediated environment is like. If it is theater like, then it would be more formal than people watching the performance on a HDTV at home and more like a live performance – which might undermine the value of comparison. I’m assuming part of the value in the study (if it demonstrates higher level of emotional engagement at live performance) is to motivate people to buy tickets and not watch event at home?

  2. Ruth Taylor Deery says

    This reminds me of a book I just read by a brain surgeon named Demasio. The book was titled DESCARTES’ ERROR (i.e. the statement “I think, therefore I am”). The gist of it is that normal emotion is necessary to the making and carrying out of reasonable decisions. Evidence starts with the classic case of Phineas Gage, over 100 years ago, and continues with the author’s experiences with brain surgery in whch the same part of the brain was affected as in the Phineas Gage case. We are all aware that too much emotion can interfere with reasonable decision-making; but conventional wisdom has it that it is theoretically possible to make and carry out decisions based on logic without any emotional involvement at all. According to the author, this is not the case. There is a great deal of information in the book about normal brain function under various conditions (far more than I could comprehend). The brain activity in the cases of direct and mediated musical experience would relate to the book’s thesis.