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5 Scientific Ways Watching Movies Effects You

By Kathy Benjamin | Lists | September 3, 2016 |

By Kathy Benjamin | Lists | September 3, 2016 |

1. They Can Ruin Your Health

Studies have shown that adrenalin junkies get real pleasure out of being scared by horror movies, but in a variety of ways they may be risking their physical and mental health without even knowing it. When we watch an intense scene in a film our heart rate and blood pressure increase. This can and does lead to heart attacks, in people who have cardiovascular weaknesses. Those links are just two examples of people people who keeled over dead during The Passion of the Christ.

Even if you are young and healthy, watching horror movies can mess with you in ways you didn’t expect. When you get scared your adrenaline and cortisone levels spike. This in turn can dredge up repressed traumatic memories. The change in your brain chemistry reminds you of times when it was in a similar state, even if you had no idea you even had those memories. So if you have some really horrible event in your past that terrified you, being scared again by a movie can inadvertently make you relive it.

If your past is trauma-free but you’ve been depressed before, even tearjerkers should be avoided. A study found that people who had been depressed in the past were more likely to ruminate over the tragic parts of movies. This in turn may have been a contributing factor if and when they returned to a depressive state.

2. They Can Improve Your Health

Okay, you’ve seen hundreds of movies and you’re fine, so it can’t all be bad, right? Of course not, there are also health benefits to watching films. Comedies, for example, help lower your blood pressure; when you laugh for extended periods of time your blood vessels dilate. Intense laughter for 15 minutes during a film has the same effect on your cardiovascular system as exercising.

Even porn films can improve your health. In a study of women who were shown “female friendly” porn, activity in some areas of the brain reduced significantly. This was reported in the press as “Watching Porn Makes Your Brain Shut Down” but the details of the study prove that the parts of the brain that slowed down are ones none of us really want going a mile a minute anyway. The main area to “shut down” controlled anxiety, and the women came away from the films calmer and happier.

If you aren’t into porn, sad movies can have a similar effect on the brain. When you watch a sad film (assuming you don’t have a history of depression) you are more likely to come away from it thinking about loved ones and feeling happy about what you have. In one study where students watch an abridged version of Atonement, they rated themselves much happier with their lives right after viewing the tragic tale than they had just before.

3. They Can Make You More Creative

…if you’re five. This may or may not extend to adults, but a study showed that young children who watched short clips from the Harry Potter films, specifically ones that involved the use of magic, scored significantly higher on a creative thinking test than children who had watched something else. So if you have the mentality of a child and want to make something or tackle a hard problem, pop in a film with a bit of magic in it and you might find yourself being more creative than normal.

4. They Can Control Your Thoughts

Thanks to science, directors may soon be able to control when you feel scared or sad during a film. Thanks to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scientists can now see just how you react to every second of a film. In one study, participants watched an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; and an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents “Bang! You’re Dead!” The results showed that 65% of participant’s brains reacted the same way to the Hitchcock clip, while only 18% were the same for Curb Your Enthusiasm. The researchers concluded that Hitchcock’s way of making movies allowed for “tighter control” of what the viewers experienced.

Maybe Hitchcock just got lucky that audiences experience his films the way he wanted them to. These days, however, it doesn’t have to be down to luck. At least one producer, Peter Katz, is using this technology to make sure the people in his audiences all experience the same level of fear, all at the same time. Even if directors don’t have the money or inclination to use this technology, other findings could still effect the way films are made. For example, scientist know that audiences’ brains react strongest to the soundtrack of films. While you may have always known deep down that that creak of a door was actually more terrifying than seeing the monster, fMRI’s have proven it. Perhaps less expected is that viewers’ brains light up almost as much when following the movement of a character’s hands. Both of these things can be utilized by directors to make sure your brain in completely in the moment during certain parts of the film, thus ensuring the entire audience reacts in the same manner.

5. They Can Make You More Aggressive

You had to know the controversial one was coming. Scientists, politicians, and parents have debated for decades if being exposed to violence through entertainment leads to actual real life violence. Overall the answer to that is probably still up in the air, but a new study seems to prove that watching aggression on screen can contribute to being a bully in real life, even if it is just in the short term. A study of 250 women found that when they watched clips of violence, bullying, or even just malicious gossiping, when tested afterwards the women were more likely to place importance, subconsciously, on words describing violence or aggression. The people on both sides of the argument (those who hate this type of game and movie vs. those who love them) both seem to overstate the findings of studies like these, one side saying all violence makes you a killer, the other saying it has no effect at all. As more evidence comes in, the real answer seems to be somewhere in the middle.

(Photo via Flickr)