How movies affect your mind: The science

There’s nothing like munching on popcorn and kicking back to watch a movie. From taking a trip to your local cinema, Netflix-bingeing or flipping through the channels on TV, there’s so much to choose from.

It’s estimated that almost 80% of the global population watches movies throughout their lives. With genres like comedy, horrors, thrillers, romcoms, fantasy and more, there’s something for everyone!

At the end of 2017, Netflix announced that its users watch more than one billion hours’ worth of content per week and the average Netflix user watched more than 60 movies for the year. With so much time spent watching movies, one has to wonder, how does it affect you?

How do movies affect us?

Have you ever found yourself sobbing during a heartbreaking scene or jumping up, frightened during a horror? While watching, we’re aware that it’s all fictional, but most movies trigger real emotional reactions.

There are many ways that you are affected by movies. Let’s explore them.

It can improve your health

If you’re a fan of comedies, good news, your belly laugh can reduce the risk of experiencing aggression and help lower your stress and blood pressure. A study by the University of Maryland found that laughing while watching a comedy makes your blood vessels expand by up to 22%, which helps lower your blood pressure. When you laugh, the tissues that form the lining of your blood vessels expand and make room for more blood flow. Choose a comedy that will let you have a good laugh for at least 15 minutes.

It may trigger bad memories

Fans of horror movies all have something in common: they want to feel alive and it seems feeling fear does the trick. Horror movies allow you to experience abnormally intense emotions. But it may affect your health negatively. The intense feelings from watching a horror can increase levels of cortisol and adrenaline in your body. These hormones can trigger bad memories. If you have a heart condition, horrors might not be a good option for you. The powerful feelings that come from watching can cause a rapid heartbeat which increases the risk of chest pain and high blood pressure in those with coronary heart disease.

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It can affect your relationships

Romantic comedies are great right? They offer free relationship advice and a newfound hope that you’ll find “the one”, but research suggests that romantic comedies have major effects on your views romantic relationships. A study from the University of Michigan explored the role of men in romcoms who won’t take no for an answer. They found that women who excessively watch romcoms are more likely to accept aggressive behaviour in men. Over time, the “love conquers all” narrative, along with female characters eventually giving in to persistent males, can make this behaviour seem normal and appropriate.

Watch what you watch

The best way to prevent negative effects of watching movies is to cut down and become picky about your viewing pleasure.

  • Make a plan about what you’re going to watch and when. This will stop you from mindlessly wiling away hours in front of the TV. Set an alarm reminder to stop watching (if you need!) Gradually cut down on the number of movies you watch. For example, limit yourself to watching on weekends and later, change the limit to Friday nights only.
  • Choose movies that will make you feel good.
  • Avoid extremely violent movies. A study revealed that these may contribute to violent or aggressive behaviour.