18 November 2011

Brian Johnson Vs Bon Scott: A Scientific Approach to an Ongoing AC/DC Debate

We have all been there. And by "there" I mean have been part of the oldest debate in AC/DC history and probably one of the biggest in Rock history in general. Who is better, Bon Scott or Brian Johnson

Although record keeping was not common in the 70s (wonder why?), rumour has it that AC/DC is the best selling Rock band in the world with all their albums reaching a minimum(!) of platinum status. Their album Back in Black, which reached an unbelievable double diamond status, sold over 40 million copies, reaching the status of No. 1 best selling Rock album of all time (and No. 2 -sadly- album of all music genres after Jackson's Thriller). No offence to Michael Jackson or its fans but... Boohoooo!

We have all heard arguments pro or against either one of them (Bon or Brian) in terms of singing abilities, performance, stage presence, showmanship, looks, style, energy, suitability to the band's style etc (the list is endless and frankly quite boring). 

A quirky Canadian Professor of Economics decided to take another approach to resolving this argument. He conducted an experimental study drawing together sciences such as Psychology, Physiology, and Sociology with experimental economics. It does sound a bit boring but his approach and results will surprise you.

In his experiment, he used the ultimatum game. I am not getting into details about the procedures but if you wish to learn more about it, I will put the reference at the end. Briefly, participants were randomly allocated into pairs with the roles of proposers or responders. The proposers were given a sum of money and were asked to choose how much of this money they would like to offer to their corresponding responder. The responder then accepts or rejects the offer. Simply put, if they accept, both proposer and responder receive their money. If the responder rejects the offer they both get nothing!

The basis for this is the assumption that people value fairness and don't just put their own wealth first, but also value other people's. And here you will ask: what does that have to do with AC/DC anyway?

In the experiment the pairs where split into two groups with one pair doing the "dealing" while listening to It's a Long Way to the Top sang by Bon Scott while the other pair listened to Shoot to Thrill sang by Brian Johnson assuming that different music types have different physiological and emotional effects on people that may guide decision making.

The findings of this strange if not creative experiment favoured Brian Johnson (sorry Bon Scott fans!). More offers were accepted in the Brian Johnson than the Bon Scott listeners leading to more efficient decision-making. Interesting I would say the least! So there you have it. From an economic perspective Brian Johnson deserves his current position (like we needed scientific support for that!) as the frontman of one of the best Rock N Roll bands.

I think the study is quite interesting, not considering the lack of control for psychological factors, a critique I am not getting into, rather letting you decide as a reader. So which one do YOU "choose"? Personally, I cannot, and refuse to choose between the two frontmen. I will not argue towards their greatness but I will say both were catalysts in the success that AC/DC are today.

For those that already rock, I salute you!
Article reference: Oxoby, RJ (2009). On the Efficiency of AC/DC: Bon Scott versus Brian Johnson. Economic Inquiry, 47(3), 598-602.
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