Pass the popcorn! Study finds that film enjoyment is contagious

Dec 04, 2007

Loud commentary and cell phone fumbling may be distracting, but new research from the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that the presence of other people may enhance our movie-watching experiences. Over the course of the film, movie-watchers influence one another and gradually synchronize their emotional responses. This mutual mimicry also affects each participant’s evaluation of the overall experience – the more in sync we are with the people around us, the more we like the movie.

“When asked how much they had liked the film, participants reported higher ratings the more their assessments lined up with the other person,” explain Suresh Ramanathan and Ann L. McGill (both of the University of Chicago). “By mimicking expressions, people catch each other’s moods leading to a shared emotional experience. That feels good to people and they attribute that good feeling to the quality of the movie.”

In a series of experiments, the researchers had participants watch a video clip. Some of the participants watched alone, some with other people whose expressions could not be seen due to the presence of a partition, and some with other people whose expressions could be seen. The participants had a joystick they used to indicate their feelings at each moment.

While assessments did not line up by second—people liked or disliked specific scenes in the film according to their own tastes— the researchers found that people watching a film together appeared to evaluate the film within the same broad mood, generally tracking up or generally tracking down. In another study, the researchers videotaped participants and found that synchrony of evaluations can be traced to glances at the other person during the film and adoption of the observed expressions.

The researchers explain: “Participants who looked at each other at the same time appeared to note whether the other person’s face expressed the same or different emotion than their own. Perceived congruity of expressions caused participants to stick with their current emotional expression . . . Perceived incongruity, on the other hand, led to a dampening of subsequent expressions.”

They continue: “Social effects described above were bi-directional suggesting that such influences were mutual rather than the result of a leader-follower pattern.”

The researchers are the first to examine how a shared experience affects not just our immediate feelings, but also our overall impressions of the experience as a whole. The study is also the first to look at contagious emotions in a naturally developing relationship between two participants, differing from prior studies that used a planted person to express agreement or disagreement with the participant.

Source: University of Chicago

Explore further: Ig Nobel winner: Using pork to stop nosebleeds

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Fact or fiction: Which do moviegoers prefer?

Aug 26, 2014

Do you feel sadder watching a documentary about war or a drama about a young person dying of cancer? According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers mistakenly believe they will have stronger emotio ...

Recommended for you

Ig Nobel winner: Using pork to stop nosebleeds

Sep 19, 2014

There's some truth to the effectiveness of folk remedies and old wives' tales when it comes to serious medical issues, according to findings by a team from Detroit Medical Center.

History books spark latest Texas classroom battle

Sep 16, 2014

As Texas mulls new history textbooks for its 5-plus million public school students, some academics are decrying lessons they say exaggerate the influence of Christian values on America's Founding Fathers.

Flatow, 'Science Friday' settle claims over grant

Sep 16, 2014

Federal prosecutors say radio host Ira Flatow and his "Science Friday" show that airs on many National Public Radio stations have settled civil claims that they misused money from a nearly $1 million federal ...

User comments : 0