The Amygdala – Fear, Pleasure, and Rock and Roll

The amygdala in concert consumer behavior

 

In my post Herd Mentality in Entertainment, I discuss how a small piece of our brain called The amygdala (what some call the old mammalian brain) is responsible for our natural mental reflexes to evade predators. This is a key component to my overall concert consumer behavior thesis as it is my belief that this piece of our brain is hard-wired for us to seek out the pack. Ultimately, leading us to copy their behaviors. Regardless if those behaviors are to group together, disperse, or buy another beer.

 

In his book, This is Your Brain on Music, neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin, Ph.D. goes into depth regarding how our brain is hardwired with (on average) one hundred billion neurons. Each neuron is connected to other neurons—usually one thousand to ten thousand others. Just four neurons can be connected in sixty-three ways, or not at all, for a total of sixty-four possibilities. As the number of neurons increases, the number of possible connections grows exponentially to the point that we will never fully understand what our brains are truly capable of.

 

For us to process a thought, memory, or even the color red the respective neurons need to fire and create that connection to pull the respective data from other areas of our brain. A great example of how this happens musically is when that song (or more likely just a part of it) gets stuck in your head – aka the “earworm.” Scientists believe this could happen because you hear the song and it triggers a set of neurons that continue to fire and get stuck in playback mode. This demonstrates to us that if a certain part of the brain becomes activated it can lead to repeat fire in the neuro-circuitry of that area, which brings me to our good ol’ friend – the amygdala.

 

You see, the amygdala is not just responsible for those survival instincts. According to Levitin, “it sits adjacent to the hippocampus, long considered the crucial structure for memory storage, if not memory retrieval. And experiments over the past decades have shown that it is highly activated by any experience or memory that has a strong emotional component.” You know…like live music.

 

So when you are at a concert your amygdala is fully powered up. Its circuits are firing and with it the likelihood that your need to connect with the pack is increased. You are biologically primed to fit into the crowd and more likely to follow their cues. This is a great plus for ancillary sales such as alcohol and food and probably explains why we all accept the overpriced beer and food while at a concert – especially if those in our row have a beer in hand.

 

However, the neuro-firing of the amygdala doesn’t stop with ancillary sales. Sponsorships benefit from this priming as well. For one, that charged-up amygdala rests near your memory storage so you are more likely to store and later recall brands you see while at a show. Second, as our earworm scenario showed us, all it takes is a piece of one song from that event to trigger those neurons and create an infinite feedback loop that could easily trigger memories of that night including the weather, smells, and advertisements you came across. Furthermore, your brain will likely categorize those brands with the positive emotions that are generated from music consumption – a huge win for advertisers.

 

Live music ignites nearly all areas of our brain. However, the amygdala carries special weight because it also drives us to instinctively follow the pack. In addition, its location near our hippocampus aids memory storage and recall, which is powerful biology that fuels concert consumer behavior.

 

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