In 1964 The Beatles came to New Zealand and played at the Wellington Town Hall. As a psychology lecturer, the visit enabled me to study mass hysteria as a psychology class exercise. The research involved interviewing John Lennon about his experiences and thoughts on the phenomenon, attending a concert to observe the atmosphere and the behaviour of the fans, and getting data from both supporters and resisters.

The Town Hall was packed to the rafters. Two hours of warm-up music and antics aroused the fans, with The Beatles appearing for the final 25 minutes of mayhem. All I could hear was the screaming and roaring of the audience. Certainly my pulse and heart-rate soared. Mark you, I did wonder whether some of the screamers might have been primed by sound technicians!

       

It transpired that the music could have been even louder had the technicians decided not to protect the equipment. On the point, John Lennon complained that: “If we’d had good microphones it would have been quite interesting, but as the microphones were so bad nobody heard us. But still, the audience was all right!”

Indeed, despite the technical issues, by the end of the concert the audience was up on its feet, jumping to and fro, with some trying to surge towards the stage to get alongside their particular idol.  (Some years later when I showed the slides again, a young woman shrieked with surprise when she recognised her mother!)

At the end, were it not for the timely playing of the slow sonorous beat of the national anthem, and the full glare of house lights switched on suddenly to restore reality, with the solidly built ‘boys in blue’ making their presence plain, there might well have been more disruption and disturbance.

Read a revised version of Tony’s complete 1964 paper on Beatlemania here—the first and still the only data-based study of such extreme audience reaction: https://file.scirp.org/pdf/PSYCH_2014103014070945.pdf

Dr Tony Taylor
Emeritus Professor
School of Psychology
Victoria University