Neuroscientists measured 75 volunteers’ physiological responses while they watched eight countries’ performances to predict which songs will do well in the popular vote
14 May 2022
Filippo Alfero/Getty Images
Sweden will be one of the most popular countries in the public vote of tonight’s Eurovision Song Contest, according to researchers who analysed peoples’ physiological responses to eight of the performances.
Daniel Richardson at University College London and his colleagues asked 75 people with an average age of 30 to watch eight nations’ entries for this year’s Eurovision finals: Norway, Germany, Spain, Poland, Italy, Australia, Sweden and France.
They monitored the heart rate and skin conductance levels of the participants as they watched the performances. This was then used to make predictions about how well each of these countries will do in tonight’s public vote.
The researchers chose these nations as four of them were guaranteed to be in the finals due to Eurovision rules, while Sweden and Australia have a good record of making it into the final round and Poland and Norway were tipped by bookmakers.
Ukraine wasn’t included as it is the runaway favourite this year. “No one would have been impressed if we predicted that Ukraine would win,” says Richardson.
The predictions are based on the team’s idea that the more similar the heart rate and skin conductance levels among a group of people when they watch the same performance, the more engaging that performance must be.
Richardson and his team have previously found that the heartbeat of a crowd can be synchronised when people watch a live musical together. Skin conductance reflects how much someone is sweating, which is stimulated by adrenaline.
“Broadly speaking, these measures are measures of arousal,” says Richardson. “But if you’re just looking at whether it goes up and down, you can’t really tell if that’s good or bad.”
Divergent patterns of physiological responses during a particular performance suggest that the act isn’t very engaging, he says.
“When something’s really gripping, everyone’s brains are processing the same stimulus and so you’ll have physiological synchrony,” he says. “Whereas we’re all bored in different ways – someone may be staring at a window, while someone’s going to be kicking their feet, and so they’ll have divergent mental states. Or at least that’s our working hypothesis.”
The researchers found that their predictions based on skin conductance levels didn’t match up exactly with those based on heart rate. Richardson speculates that heart rate similarity may tell us how emotionally engaging a performance is, whereas skin conductance may be more of an indicator of how engaged they are by a performance’s narrative – though he emphasises that this is still speculative.
“They’re coupled, but only loosely – the truth is we don’t quite know what they tell us just yet,” says Richardson. To make their overall predictions, the researchers simply averaged out the two types of prediction.
Of the countries looked at in the study, the team anticipates that Sweden will place the highest in the public vote, followed by Australia and Italy. Norway will get the lowest score, the researchers predict.
The team plans to use the outcome of this year’s Eurovision to help refine the way such data is analysed and improve predictions for next year.
“I love this study so much,” says Sarah Garfinkel at University College London. “I think the authors have been really brave putting their predictions out there like this.”
“I think studies like this can highlight the biology of empathy and show the true essence of human nature,” she says. “We are a social species.”
Garfinkel won’t say whether the team’s predictions will be correct, but she thinks their approach has merit. “I’m really confident that they’re on the right track,” she says.
Reference: OSF Registries, DOI: 10.17605/OSF.IO/MYQKH
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