Coughing is a perennial irritation for concert-goers. But although being stuck next to a patron with a tickley cough is frustrating, no one has ever suggested they might be coughing on purpose – until now.
A study conducted by one Professor Andreas Wagener from the University of Hannover has suggested that coughing is both deliberate and more frequent among classical audiences.
‘Coughing in concerts occurs more frequently than elsewhere,’ he writes, ‘implying a widespread and intentional breach of concert etiquette.’ He writes that the average concertgoer coughs 0.025 times per minute which translates in to 36 coughs per day – more than double the normal cough rate.
The study, called ‘Why do People (not) Cough in Concerts? The Economics of Concert Etiquette’ puts forward various suggestions for why audiences might cough more from participation (‘coughing is one of few acceptable ways of active participation within strict concert etiquette’) to boredom – a view apparently put forward by Sir Colin Davis.
BBC Music Magazine critic and writer Jessica Duchen responded on her blog with some further reasons for the scourge of coughing: ‘Pre-emptive coughing. You cough when you can, in the breaks between movements… And because you know that in another moment you won’t be able to… Nervous coughing. There’s nothing like being unable to do something to make you feel a terrible urge to do it.’
Professor Wagener concludes that coughing is as much a part of the concert-going experience as the music itself, calling the ‘spillovers’ of the concert not ‘accidental byproducts but rather the raison d’être of concerts’.
We’d be fascinated to know your thoughts…