Some Swifties attending the Eras Tour have admitted to finding it hard to recall specific details of the show. An ANU expert explains these memory gaps.

Australia has Taylor Swift fever, with the American megastar touching down in the country this week ahead of seven shows in Melbourne and Sydney. 

Concert goers are dressing up as their favourite ‘era’, making friendship bracelets to hand out to fellow fans during the shows, and doing everything in their power to make the experience as memorable as possible. 

It makes sense – tickets to Swift’s Australian shows sold out in hours. 

But fans of the Cruel Summer singer who have attended her shows during the United States leg of her Eras Tour have admitted to finding it hard to recall particular moments and specific details of the show. 

Mikayla Simpson had heard similar stories from the US, but knows from her own experiences that post-concert amnesia, while not a medical diagnosis, is very real. 

The President of the ANU Swift Society has already seen Taylor Swift in concert twice – during her 1989 and Reputation tours – and will be at Swift’s first Sydney show on 23 February.  

She says she struggles to recall details from both previous Swift concerts. 

“I can’t remember what happened – I can’t really remember past the opening,” the Environment and Sustainability second-year student says. 

“For Reputation, I remember going down to find my seat, and some flashes of it, but I don’t remember the surprise song she played or any other specific moments.”

Mark Edwards, an Associate Professor at the Australian National University (ANU) College of Health and Medicine, says there are a few factors to consider that help understand post-concert amnesia. 

“Any situation that is really arousing, that you’re really excited about and also that has a lot of input going into a lot of sensory experiences can lead to that phenomenon,” he says. 

An expert in sensory processes, perception and performance at the ANU School of Medicine and Psychology, Associate Professor Edwards says the idea that you will remember everything you experience is simply not the case.  

Most of the material that people see and experience isn’t remembered at all. 

“You can divide memory into three main modules. The first is the sensory experience: so, everything you see, hear and touch, that’s all part of your sensory input. 

“Then you have what’s called short-term memory, so that’s what you really experience from all of the things around you.  

“But then for it to go into long-term memory – the things that you actually remember, long term – that requires dedicated processing.” 

So given those three modules, let’s put them into context of somebody at a Taylor Swift concert. There are two main aspects to think about, Associate Professor Edwards says. 

‘Swifties’ are very passionate about her music, which will mean they have a really high arousal during the concert – they’re really excited about being there. 

Then there’s the concert itself and the incredible production values that come with it.  

In addition to Swift singing her songs, there’s a light show, back-up singers, back-up dancers, interactions with the crowd and friends, and lots of personal singing and dancing. 

‘Swifties’ are very passionate about her music. Photo. Tracey Nearmy/ANU

It’s the perfect storm, Associate Professor Edwards says. 

“What that means is there’s a lot of information to process. So, two aspects… high arousal – really high emotions – and also a lot of information,” he says.  

“It’s probably the worst-case combination. High arousal impairs memory formation and there’s just so much to remember. 

“So, the end result of that is you’re not going to forget being at the concert, but the fine details of it or the things that you did in that concert may not have been encoded into a long-term memory.” 

Associate Professor Edwards says it’s a fine line – a slight elevation in excitement means you’re more engaged and you’re more likely to remember something. 

But when that excitement is ramped up to really high levels of arousal, it can be detrimental. 

The researcher who lists Evermore and Folklore among his favourite Swift albums says: “Think about it in relation to going to a lecture. If the lecture is really boring, you’re not going to remember it.  

“But if it’s interesting and there’s a slight increase in arousal, you’re going to find it more engaging, you’ll attend to it and you’ll remember it more.” 

So how can people going to Swift’s concerts remember the more intricate details of the show? Being ‘less excited’ isn’t really an option.  

Ms Simpson, who will watch the concert with her sister and mother, hopes it’s not a repeat of the 1989 and Reputation shows. 

“I would really love to be able to remember it. This concert, I’d really like to take it in in person. I’ve convinced my mum to film a lot of it, and I’ll take videos of certain parts of the concert, but I want to just absorb what I can,” she said. 

“I have seen The Eras Tour movie twice, so I think that might help me with knowing what comes next, I’ll know what to expect which could help.” 

Associate Professor Edwards says the worst thing you could do is completely disengage and become a passive observer for all of it. A Swift concert is there to experience and immerse yourself in. 

“Memory isn’t there to record every single thing that you do in your life. There’s a balance between being in the moment, being lost in the moment, having those experiences and remembering it. 

“Enjoy the experience, be a part of it.  

“But every so often, just look around, take stock, try to absorb those memories and get them consolidated into that long-term memory.

“Anything beyond that, I think, would really diminish the experience of being at what I’m sure is going to be a fantastic concert.”

This story was co-published with ANU College of Health and Medicine.

Top image: ANU student and Swiftie Mikayla Simpson. Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU

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