On Saturday night, musical acts from twenty-six countries will assemble in the Lisbon Arena, in Portugal, for the grand finale of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The contest, which débuted in 1956, is among the longest-running television programs in the world, and, as a new study in the journal BMC Public Health notes, it “attracts a wide range of individual countries’ talent, including orc-style monsters (Finland 2006), singers on unicycles (Moldova 2011) and puppet turkeys (Ireland 2008).” Despite this, and because of it, the contest is closely watched; in 2016, Eurovision broadcasts reached more than two hundred million viewers, including ninety-five per cent of the residents of Iceland.
This year, the oddsmakers favor Cyprus, with the song “Fuego,” by Eleni Foureira. (“Take a dive into my eyes / Yeah, the eyes of a lioness.”) The U.K., Slovenia, Albania, and Serbia are expected to fare the worst. But, if science is any indicator, the supporters of any given nation, even the ones that perform poorly, will be happier for having participated. In the new study, researchers at Imperial College London found that people reported being more satisfied with life if their country had competed in the Eurovision Song Contest that year—even if the performance was “terrible,” defined as placing twentieth or lower in a field of two dozen.
For raw data, the researchers, led by Filippos Filippidis, of Imperial’s School of Public Health, turned to the Eurobarometer, a series of public-opinion surveys that has been carried out in all the countries of Europe since 1973. Twice a year, the surveys include the question, “On the whole, are you very satisfied, fairly satisfied, not very satisfied or not at all satisfied with the life you lead?” Filippidis and his colleagues analyzed responses from more than a hundred and sixty thousand people, from thirty-three European countries, between 2009 and 2015—specifically in the spring, just after the Eurovision final. The study controlled for a range of factors, including the respondents’ age, gender, employment and marital status, and whether they’d had difficulty paying their bills in the previous twelve months.
Researchers elsewhere have found that national contests can have a positive effect on the populace. According to a study from 2002, workers in the city that is home to the winner of the Super Bowl earn slightly more than they did before, perhaps reflecting an improvement in productivity. (Across the country, however, productivity plummets on