Whether at sporting events or political rallies, national anthems constitute a powerful tool to evoke nationalism and pride in individuals, according to the first empirical exploration on the effect of national anthems on social identity.
Undertaken by Dr. Avi Gilboa and Dr. Ehud Bodner of Bar-Ilan University's Department of Music, the study, which includes three distinct experiments, was published in October in the Psychology of Music journal.
In the first experiment, a diverse group of 350 Israelis listened to the "Hativka" national anthem and three other songs and wrote down the associations that came to mind.
The results indicated that Gilboa and Bodner's hypothesis was true as "â€¦the anthem evoked more national associations than any other song and that this was a shared tendency despite the subcultural divergences."
After listening to the "Hatikva", 91 percent of respondents wrote down associations such as "the Jewish nation," "the Israeli people" or "this song belongs to everybody," and 78.6% reported national emotions such as pride, hope and patriotism.
The study found that an individual's local anthem evoked significantly greater national association than a different anthem, indicating that this effect was not caused by musical elements but rather the meanings attributed to the song.
However, the study also provided some surprising results. Adolescents' reactions to the national anthem were not as enthusiastic as overall results would indicate, Dr. Gilboa noted.
"They [adolescents] gave less responses, they were not as involved," Gilboa told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "Of course we only had 70 adolescentsâ€¦ we need to truly find out if this is true through further research."
The second experiment focused on marginal groups within Israeli society such as the ultra-religious. The ultra-religious reported significantly less national associations than the non-ultra religious and reported mixed feelings on the anthem, some of which were negative.
"We were expecting the haredim to all be non-national, but some of them were, Gilboa said. "It seems as though haredim are getting closer to national symbols such as the anthem."
Gilboa and Bodner then tested whether symbols can evoke associations and emotions similar to national anthems. Participants listened to the national anthem and were exposed to the Israeli flag and to one of the state's principal emblems.
The results showed that the emblem provoked the least national associations, while the flag and the anthem provoked national associations to a similar extent. "This is probably because they are frequently presented together on national occasions," the researchers stated. "Thus, they become synonymous with nationality."
The study has given the Bar-Ilan scientists many ideas for future research, Gilboa said. From an international anthem study to more in-depth studies of how subsections of Israeli society react to the anthem, there is a long road ahead.
"Evidently, the potential that research into anthems holds is promising," the study concluded. "Today, in the global village era, where borders are loosening, mass immigration is taking place and free communication is available to the masses, a revised perspective on the function of the anthems is called upon."