Music festivals make us think of certain things – perhaps big stages, cool bands, and having fun. What about a way to improve a form of psychological wellbeing? This might not be one thing we’d think of straight away, but there’s a range of emerging study to show that the engagement at music festivals could be an effective, exciting way to improve engagement in young people. Festivals, by definition, reflect festivity and a shared sense of joyfulness!
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Measures of Positive Psychology: Engagement at Music Festivals
Engagement is one key measure in positive psychology. Martin Seligman, the father of modern positive psychology, emphasises the importance of wellbeing, and suggests five quantifiable measures to reflect this construct.
They are referred to by Seligman’s acronym PERMA: Positive Emotion, Engagement, Positive Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment (Seligman, 2011).
Improving measures like engagement is key to improve well-being. Low levels of wellbeing are costly to an individual’s health, social interactions, and daily life, and also in terms of economy and productivity for society and organisation (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005).
Engagement is an important positive psychological construct: a measure of a person’s purpose in life. Engagement can be a predictor of various health outcomes, both physical and psychological, and is an important factor to improve in people, as the disengaged person feels that life is without purpose, and empty (Scheier et al. 2006; Seligman, 2011).
The Power of Music
Much research has explored factors that can improve positive emotions and wellbeing – nature, relationships, and so on. Music is one such factor that is often studied, and there is a large body of psychological literature that explores the effects of music in relation to positive constructs.
Like other arts, music can make a major contribution to health and well-being. In a review for the Australian government, Pascoe and colleagues (2005) showed that engaging with music has benefits in social, emotional, physical, and cognitive domains, and can bring joy to life.
Pascoe and colleagues (2005) suggest that engaging with music has important implications; research has linked benefits to stages across the lifespan. Improving engagement in disengaged young people can impact resilience levels, and have broader societal benefit; self-expression, mood enhancement, a sense of place, and belonging, can all result (Pascoe et al., 2005).
Music brings positive effects in everyday life, as shown in a study of 20 to 31-year old students. Using the experience sampling method, participants reported feelings of happiness, elation, and nostalgia more frequently in experiences that included music (Juslin, 2008).
The Benefits of Music Festivals
The music festival has already been used in the health sciences to access groups of young people for research purposes; however, psychological research has been limited.
Lim and colleagues (2007) recruited 16-29 year old participants for an article on sexual health at the Big Day Out, an Australian touring music festival.
Other researchers (Sacks-Davis et al., 2010) tested chlamydia rates in young attendees for epidemiological data.
A unique context of music, with particular popularity amongst young people, is the music festival – events featuring multiple artists, and produced specifically for target audiences, informed by the styles and attitudes of young people. (Gibson & Connell, 2003).
Popular mainstream music festivals in Australia, and around the world, typically accommodate thousands of people in outdoorspaces. As such, music festivals are formats that promote engagement; they offer great immersion in a unique environment (Bowen & Daniels, 2005).
Research has shown that festival attendance can create a sense of community, bringing groups together beyond the mere aggregate of people; a sense of common purpose and connection can emerge (Gibson & Connell, 2003).
Australian researchers Packer and Ballantyne (2010) investigated the social wellbeing and psychological benefits of music festival attendance in a sequential, mixed-methods exploratory study.
They reported that people experience senses of engagement and connection at festivals in ways that are not possible in even typical live music concerts. Not only is there much interaction with other attendees, especially in the context of multi-day events, but with artists themselves; the music festival allows for close proximity.
Packer and Ballantyne asked their participants open-ended focus group discussion questions, and qualitative analysis showed that young people attend music festivals for music, festival, social, and separation experiences. Of particular note is the experience of separation; this allows reflection on daily activities, experiences, and oneself, by feeling disconnected from everyday life.
Transcribed conversation recounted that attendance at a festival is an active process that allows significant engagement with music, because the connection between performer and audience is bi-directional, resulting in a personalised, distinctive experience (Packer & Ballantyne, 2010).
Although the underlying mechanism for the improved psychological benefits of festival attendance is unclear, the authors suggest the interplay of various factors is important; the music festival is unique in its combination of social experience, familiarity, and novelty in artists and environments.
Unstructured exposure to various music performances, as is common in the festival environment, can inspire a feeling of creativity, contributing to a person’s feeling of having purpose in life (Pitts, 2005; Packer & Ballantyne, 2010).
Packer and Ballantyne’s second study (2010) gathered quantitative data in questionnaire format; participants were tested on psychological, social, and subjective well-being when leaving a major Australian music festival.
Of the four experience motivations identified in their first study, it was found that the music and separation experiences were of most importance.
Quantitative data reinforced the positive effects of attendance; for example, 92% of participants agreed with the statements “I feel I have accomplished something” and “I have a greater understanding of the importance of music in my life.”
Beyond the Study: How to Apply
If music festival attendance can increase engagement in young people, and have a range of other effects, there could be potential in encouraging attendance for wide groups of people.
Not only can music improve engagement for those in need, wider population strategies and community events could be a future strategy to improve a wide range of psychological effects. This brings us right back to the foundations of positive psychology, and the overall aim to improve quality of life by actualising human potential (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).
Bowen, H. E., & Daniels, M. J. (2005). Does the music matter? Motivations for attending a music festival. Event Management, 9(3), 155-164.
Fredrickson, B. L., Losada, M. F. (2005). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. American Psychologist, 60(7), 678-686.
Gibson, C., & Connell, J. (2003). ‘Bongo fury’: Tourism, music and cultural economy at Byron Bay, Australia. Tijdschrift voor economische en sociale geografie, 94(2), 164-187.
Juslin, P. N., Liljestrom, S., Vastfjall, D., Barradas, G., & Silva, A. An experience sampling study of emotional reactions to music: Listener, music, and situation. Emotion, 8(5), 668-683.
Lim, M. S. C., Hellard, M. E., Aitken, C. K. & Hocking, J. S. (2007). Sexual-risk behaviour, self-perceived risk and knowledge of sexually transmissible infections among young Australians attending a music festival. Sexual Health, 4, 51-56.
Packer, J., & Ballantyne, J. (2010). The impact of music festival attendance on young people’s psychological and social well-being. Psychology of Music, 39(2), 164-181.
Pascoe, R., Leong, S., MacCallum, J., Mackinlay, E., Marsh, K., Smith, B., et al. (2005). National review of school music education: Augmenting the diminished. Canberra: Australian Government.
Pitts, S. E. (2005). What makes an audience? Investigating the roles and experiences of listeners at a chamber music festival. Music & Letters, 86(2), 257–269.
Scheier, M. F., Wrosch, C., Baum, A., Cohen, S., Martire, L. M., Matthews, K. A., Schulz, R. & Zdaniuk, B. (2006). The life engagement test: Assessing purpose in life. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 29(3), 291-298.
Seligman, M. E. P. Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well- being. 2011, New York: Simon & Schuster.
Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14.