It doesn’t take a, uh, scientist to come to the conclusion stated in the title of this post. That said, it’s nice to have some quantitative evidence to support the significance of the live performing arts experience.
The NYT’s Tierney Lab blog posts about a study conducted in conjunction with the Dance Your PhD contest (in which scientific studies are interpreted through dance). Live audience members were given the four finalists’ abstracts and had to guess which dance matched up to which study. The same challenge was given to the online readers of Gonzo Scientist. The data were analyzed and the results are discussed here.
The most compelling finding of the study is that the live audiences did much better at correctly matching the study topic to the dance. As John Bohannon, the study’s author and Gonzo Scientist blogger, says, it is true that many in the live audience had a dance background as well as worked in the sciences.
“But it doesn’t solve the mystery of why live audiences seem to be smarter in general. It’s unlikely that the online experiment systematically attracted people with less science or dance expertise. Nor is access to information likely to make the difference. (Probably few online participants took the time to read the full papers.)
I propose a simple explanation. Being part of a live audience focuses your attention in a way that staring at a lonely computer screen never can. It’s equally true of art and science.” [emphasis added]