Watching films that reduce you to tears may increase your threshold for pain and boost feel-good chemicals in the brain, Oxford scientists have found.
They also found that stories that arouse our emotions trigger the same mechanisms as other forms of bonding. While comedy makes us laugh, a process that releases endorphins -feel-good chemicals that increase pain tolerance, it is less clear why we would choose to watch emotionally-stirring drama.Researchers from Oxford University decided to test whether such drama causes emotional arousal that itself triggers endorphin release.
For the study , a group watched the film “Stuart: A Life Backwards“, chronicling the story of a disabled child abuse survivor who eventually kills himself. A second group watched documentaries that were about less emotive subjects. The team tested changes in pain threshold, a common proxy measure for endorphin release, with the wall-sit test, in which people take an unsupported sitting position with their back aga inst the wall and hold it as long as possible. The two groups did the test before and after the viewing as well as completed questionnaires.
Those who watched “Stuart“ were less cheerful afterwards, while the documentary viewers were far less affected. When retested on the wall-sit, those who had watched Stuart could hold the position for an average 13% longer. The documentary group held for an average 4.6% shorter time.
From the questionnaires, the team found that those who had watched the film also felt a greater bond to their fellow viewers compared to the documentary-watching group.Our affinity for emotive fiction may have evolved in the context of bonding social groups.