Feeling low on fiction leads to feeling high on life: Why tragedy on film makes us happy
21:12 GMT, 12 April 2012
Researchers have discovered why moviegoers enjoy watching fictional characters die with a broken heart.
Ohio State Researchers tested the tragedy paradox theory, that more sadness produces greater tragic enjoyment.
From Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, to Titanic, viewers watch characters commit suicide, die tragic deaths and the protagonist lose 'the one'. So why do we enjoy these sad films
Tragedy paradox: In Titanic, viewers watch characters commit suicide, die tragic deaths and the protagonist lose 'the one'. So why do we enjoy these sad films
In a study led by communication professor Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, researchers recruited hundreds of students to watch the movie Atonement, which involves two lovers who are separated and then killed at war.
Before and after the film, researchers asked the respondents several questions to measure their happiness.
They also asked them before, after, and three times during the film to gauge their level of various emotions, including sadness.
Finally, after the film, the subjects privately shared how much they enjoyed the movie, relaying how it led them to reflect on themselves, their goals, their relationships, and life in general.
Analysing heartache: Students watched Atonement, about two lovers separated and then killed at war, before being asked questions to measure their happiness
Analysing the viewer's responses, researchers ascertained that tragedy-induced sadness instigates three key reactions that lead us to enjoy tragedies, and it has nothing to so with Schadenfreude.
They found that watching tragic movies makes some people happier because they bring attention to positive aspects in their own lives.
This level of happiness was only
absent among those who had self-centered thoughts surrounding the film,
such as 'My life isn't as bad as the characters in this movie.'
The study concluded: 'Life reflection increases tragedy enjoyment as well as specific thoughts about close relationships that, in turn, raise
life happiness, which subsequently increases tragedy enjoyment
The more viewers thought about their own relationships and loved ones as a result of watching the movie, the greater the increase in their happiness.
'Tragic stories often focus on themes of eternal love,' said Ms Knobloch-Westerwick, 'and this leads viewers to think about their loved ones and count their blessings.'