April 15, 2014
According to a recent paper by the economist Andreas Wagener, people are twice as likely to cough during a concert as at other times. Furthermore, they are more likely to cough during modern, atonal music than during better-known repertoire and they cough more during slow or quiet passages than during fast and loud ones.Or as Victor Borge said: "People will cough during "Clair de Lune" who have never coughed in their lives!
The classical cough, then, is no accident but rather a form of communication disguised as involuntary physiological tic. “Because of their ambiguity – they may always be forgiven as bodily reflexes – coughs are a noisy substitute for direct, verbal communication and participation,” Wagener writes. “They allow for social interaction up to contagious herding, propagate (possibly incorrect) assessments of the performance and reassure concert-goers in their aesthetic judgements.”
Coughers might thus be rebelling nonverbally against the hierarchy imposed on them – that of powerful, noise-making performers and submissive, silent audience.