Moldova will be one of the most popular countries in the public vote of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, according to researchers who analyzed people’s physiological responses to eight of the performances.
Daniel Richardson at University College London and his colleagues asked 60 Eurovision fans living in London, with an average age of 31, to watch the entries from Moldova, Norway, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Italy, the Czech Republic and Spain.
The researchers chose these nations as Spain, Germany and Italy are guaranteed to be in the finals due to Eurovision rules, while the others were given good odds of making it into the final by bookmakers. The UK and Ukraine weren’t included in the study because of the likelihood that participants could be swayed by factors other than the performance, like patriotic bias or sympathy due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
We now know that all eight nations have made it to the final, which takes place on 13 May in Liverpool, UK.
The team 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 the public vote – which accounts for half of the overall scores in the competition.
The idea behind the predictions is that when many people are highly engaged by the same stimulus, their physiological responses are likely to be similar. “But if people are bored of that same stimulus, they may all be bored in different ways,” says Richardson. “Someone might look at their phone, another person may stare out the window – their physiological responses will all look different. That’s the hypothesis at least: I think we still need that killer evidence to support it.”
Richardson and his team have previously found that the heartbeats of people in a crowd watching a musical can speed up and slow down at the same rate. Skin conductance reflects how much someone is sweating, which is stimulated by adrenaline.
The researchers used the same approach to make predictions for last year’s Eurovision contest, but they weren’t particularly successful. Richardson says they have taken into account last year’s results and modified the way in which they combine the heart rate and skin conductance data for this year’s predictions.
Of the countries looked at in this study, the team anticipates that Moldova will place the highest in the public vote, followed by Norway and Germany. Spain will get the lowest score, the researchers predict.
But Richardson says he isn’t particularly confident that Moldova will actually be successful. The country currently has odds of around 250/1 to win.
Moldova’s entry is particularly theatrical and has many shocking elements to it, he says. “My hunch is that, instead of measuring which songs people are most engaged by for its quality, we’ve actually measured the emotional response to songs that have a shock factor.”
If none of the team’s predictions come right this year, Richardson says he is unlikely to repeat the experiment again. “Maybe Eurovision is just too weird and random a phenomenon and is immune to logic and science.”
The fact the team’s predictions weren’t very accurate last year shows how difficult it is to measure emotional reactions, says Sarah Garfinkel at University College London. “I still love the premise of the study and look forward to seeing how well they do this year.”