5 Factors That Secretly Influence How Much You Like a Movie
Movies are a pretty simple experience: As long as there are no jerks texting, babies crying through the action sequences, or mystery fluids spilling onto your arms from some unseen place that is better not investigated, all we need is a good flick and a comfortable seat. But it turns out the movie experience is not quite as simple as that; there are all sorts of things about watching films and television shows that we never consider -- or even outright hate -- that are actually making the whole thing better ...
Spoilers Enhance Your Enjoyment
If being drawn and quartered were still in practice, it would be chiefly employed on those who reveal spoilers -- at least according to the Internet. Is there anything worse than waiting for the next installment of your favorite franchise, spending months religiously avoiding all teasers, reviews, and human interaction in general, only to have someone in line with you carelessly blurt out that the National Treasure was in our hearts all along?
Well, according to science, you're strangling an elderly couple outside a Nicolas Cage movie for nothing. A study at the University of California, San Diego revealed that, much in contrast to popular belief, spoilers actually enhance our enjoyment. In a series of experiments, researchers presented test subjects with one of three different versions of a story: one that was spoiled beforehand, one that was in its original, unspoiled state, and one that had the spoiler incorporated somewhere in the middle -- presumably via a clown face popping up halfway through and screaming "HE'S BEEN DEAD THE WHOLE TIME HUHUHUH!"
To the absolute shock of all, the results unanimously proved that overreacting Internet forum members do not, in fact, represent the sum total of human psychology: Test subjects who knew the spoilers beforehand enjoyed the stories significantly more than those who experienced them unspoiled. Subjects exposed to middle-point spoilers also enjoyed the stories less, but we'll chalk that one up to the Impending Death Clown.
You ruin everything, Patrick.
Researchers theorize that this is because we tend to focus primarily on the plot and the resulting suspense, which prevents us from chilling out and taking in all the other wondrous elements that make up good storytelling. Or, as Jonathan Leavitt of UC San Diego's psychology department more eloquently put it, "Once you know how it turns out, it's cognitively easier -- you're more comfortable processing the information -- and [you] can focus on a deeper understanding of the story."
Everyone has that one book they can read again and again, or that one movie that only gets better with repeated viewings. If spoilers really were as big of a deal as we make them out to be, wouldn't it stand to reason that your enjoyment would decrease with each subsequent viewing?
Everything gets worse. Everything.
So the next time some irate Internet denizen yells at you for revealing a spoiler, you just tell them that, scientifically speaking, you're actually doing them a favor. They'll have no cause to type homophobic slurs at you now!
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You Like Horror Movies Because of What Happens After the Movie
A really good horror flick is like a roller coaster ride -- it gets your heart thumping, your blood pressure pumping to eyeball-bulging levels, and your breath huffing like a marathon runner. But what you may not realize is that this state of physiological arousal sticks with you well after the movie's over. It's called the excitation transfer process, and it may be the real reason you keep going back for scares again and again. That's right: You're not an eager horror fan with an appreciation for the art of film; you're a pathetic terror addict.
Seriously, though, ease off a little.
Glenn Sparks, Ph.D., explains that being in this amped-up state after enjoying a good fright causes any emotions you experience to be intensified. An after-movie dinner, bar hopping with buddies, crying into a pillow before you sleep -- it's all going to feel that much better if you first share your evening with your old friend Freddy Krueger. One study observed participants' reactions to artwork after performing one of several activities -- "sitting normally, engaging in 15 or 30 jumping jacks, or viewing a happy or scary video" -- and watching the scary movie was the only one shown to improve the participants' level of appreciation for the art.
"You guys suck. But right now I'm too jacked up on Hellraiser to care."
Of course, it doesn't always work positively. This phenomenon can also hold true in the opposite direction: If you slip in a Mr. Pibb puddle on your way out of the theater, resulting in a classic soda fracture, your heightened emotions will amplify the negativity of the incident and it could cause you, on an unconscious level, to forever associate hockey masks with persistent butt pain.
Being Neurotic Helps You Get Immersed in Films
You'd think neurotic people would have a hard time really getting into a movie, what with spending the entire show worrying about whether or not they remembered to lock their car on the way into the theater, or turn off the stove, or- oh no, what is this spot? Is this cancer?! It really feels like cancer!
"Ohgod, ohgod ... did breathing always hurt this much?"
However, when researchers gathered up a bunch of worrywarts and sat them down in front of a movie screen, they found something interesting: People who were more neurotic experienced more immersion in the films, reporting that they felt more detached from their physical environment than those participants who tended to worry less. No matter what type of film they were shown -- happy, sad, or scary -- neurotic folk were better equipped to get into the film than their more laid-back brethren. Researchers explain the tendency thusly: "Neurotics usually have a highly reactive sympathetic nervous system, making them sensitive to any environmental stimulation." So there you go: It's precisely because you're such a huge wimp about the garage door opener going off by accident that you are more able to fully occupy a fantasy world.
Don't get too excited, neurotics! Because that's clearly a sign of an impending aneurysm. But also because, prior to this research, it was generally assumed that greater immersion in a film led to greater enjoyment. This study suggests otherwise -- while they reported greater presence in films across the board, neurotics reported that they enjoyed sad or horror films less than non-worriers. They did, however, enjoy comedies more.
"None of them were sure how to treat Ben Stiller."
So does this mean that people who are neurotic prefer comedy, or that people who prefer comedy are more neurotic? Do you think that's something you should be worried about? Should you maybe seek the opinion of a professional?
Violent Content Doesn't Increase Our Enjoyment (Even Though We Seek It Out)
We human beings just love us some violent content. Boy howdy, if an action-jawed man-pile ain't blowing something's face inside out with an obscenely large hand cannon, we just plain don't want to see it. But a study by Indiana University revealed that we might not like our entertainment served with quite so large a dollop of violence as we think. In the study, researchers created two different descriptions for a TV show: one sanitized, nonviolent version, and one that was all killing and stabbing and maiming and America! Then they created two versions of the TV show in question: a violent and a nonviolent one.
"They're a band, but they also solve crimes."
To the surprise of no one, the violent version was initially chosen more often. However, even when they had chosen the show based on the more violent description, participants enjoyed watching the nonviolent version more than the violent one.
So wait -- if we don't enjoy it, then why do we flock toward promises of violent content? One possibility is that we assume the presence of violence means that there will also be other elements we do enjoy, like intense action sequences, Camaros, and sweet, sweet jump kicks. But perhaps the most interesting theory put forward by the researchers is based on evolutionary psychology: Our brains are simply wired to pay closer attention to violent images, "given the severe costs and potential payoffs associated with violence." But just because your distant ancestor Ugg had to pay close attention to the gore-slathered fangs of roving packs of saber-toothed cats every time he set foot outside his cave, that doesn't necessarily mean he liked it. So, too, you may not actually enjoy the high stakes of violent content any more than, say, the gripping drama of a friendly snuggle-fest.
"Game of Thrones is OK, but why couldn't it be Game of Hugs? Or just Hugs?"
Commercials Add to Your Enjoyment
It's clear that commercials are the one thing we universally hate about our TV- and movie-watching experiences. After all, multimillion-dollar companies have based their entire bottom line on creating technologies that allow us to enjoy our entertainment commercial-free. But multiple studies have shown that commercial interruptions not only do not detract from our enjoyment of our favorite shows -- they occasionally make us enjoy certain media more.
"Wow, this is tolerable."
In each study, groups of participants were shown commercial-free and commercialized versions of TV shows, and in every case, participants enjoyed the shows more when they were interrupted by commercials. In fact, one study found that when shown a nature documentary, participants not only enjoyed it more with commercial interruptions, but were also more willing to donate money to a nature charity. Where it gets really interesting is that the phenomenon isn't limited to movies and TV, but extends to any enjoyable experience. For example, one study found that participants enjoyed a massage more when it was interrupted in the middle -- presumably via a clown face popping up halfway through and screaming "HE WAS DEAD THE WHOLE TIME HUHUHUH!!!"
So how is it that something we're all convinced we hate is actually heightening our enjoyment? Researchers propose that, as with any experience, we adapt to it over time. Our first kiss is freaking fireworks; the tenth one's, like, maybe a firecracker; the hundredth one's pretty OK, but it's no burrito, you know? We'll kiss later; we're kinda hungry. So as we watch an hour-long TV show, our enjoyment of it lessens because we adapt to the experience over the show's run time. But breaking the experience up with commercials interrupts that adaptation process -- so each time the show comes back from a break, we're able to continue experiencing it with that higher level of enjoyment.
"After an hour of the Home Shopping Network, I'm excited for Two and a Half Men."
So this might be a good time to take a break between articles and visit some of our lovely sponsors, right? Hey, maybe the only reason you don't find us funny anymore is because you're not clicking nearly enough of our ads ...
Jason is a freelance editor for this fine website, Cracked.com. Liking him on Facebook is currently at 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
For more ways you are not at all your own person, check out The 5 Weirdest Things That Influence How Your Food Tastes and 5 Bizarre Factors That Secretly Influence Your Opinions.
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