Watching meaningful movies – those we find moving and poignant – can help us feel more prepared for life’s challenges and want to be a better person, according to a new study.
The results indicate a reason why people may choose to watch movies that make them sad and happy, and that can explore difficult topics that aren’t always uplifting.
The researchers found that when people recalled watching meaningful films like The Shawshank Redemption and Up, they reported a variety of positive reactions, such as being better able to come to terms with the human condition and making sense of the problems of the human race. life.
These positive experiences were less likely to be reported when people thought about watching Hollywood dishes like The Big Lebowski or Catch Me if You Can.
“Meaningful movies actually help people cope with the challenges in their own lives and help them want to pursue bigger goals,” said Jared Ott, lead author of the study and graduate student in communications at Ohio. State University.
While many studies have looked at how people respond to watching meaningful movies or movie clips in a lab, this research was designed to see how these movies affect people in the real world, the co-author said. Michael Slater, communications professor at Ohio. State.
“We wanted to know how people experience these movies in their everyday lives,” Slater said. “There hasn’t been a lot of research on this.”
Ott and Slater conducted the study with Naomi QP Tan, a former Ohio State graduate student. The research was published online recently in the journal Mass communication and society.
The researchers created two lists of 20 Hollywood films, one a list of significant films and the other a list of less significant films, all made after 1985 and with high ratings.
Significant films, which included Hotel Rwanda, Schindler’s List, and Slumdog Millionaire, were the ones that the user-generated listings on the IMDB movie site described using terms such as poignant, inspiring, and meaningful.
These movies were mapped to movies produced around the same time and with similar MPAA ratings (G, PG, R) which were not described by users using the same terms as significant movies. Some of these films included Ratatouille, Fight Club, and Pulp Fiction.
The study involved 1,098 adults recruited online.
Participants were randomly selected to receive either the list of significant films or the list of less significant films and asked to indicate which ones they had seen. One of the films they had seen before was then randomly selected for each participant, who responded to the rest of the survey in relation to that film.
The survey asked a variety of questions about how each participant reacted to the film chosen for him or her.
The results showed that people who remembered a meaningful movie were more likely than others to say the movie helped them understand life’s challenges. For example, the film helped them “to feel that the struggles in life are for a reason” and “to more easily handle difficult situations with grace and courage”.
Significant films were also more likely than other films to help viewers come to terms with the human condition, according to the results. Participants recalling these films said the film left them feeling that “happy and sad experiences give meaning to our life” and “gains and losses are part of life”, among other similar statements.
Participants recalling meaningful movies were also more likely to say the movie motivated them to be a better person, to do good things for others, and to seek out what really matters in life.
How did meaningful films have these positive effects? The study found that the key elements of these films were their touching character, the mixture of happiness and sadness; their emotional range; and their ability to make people feel uplifted and inspired by watching them.
Overall, significant films had more of these positive effects than other films. But that doesn’t mean people can’t find meaning in movies that are supposed to be more entertaining than meaningful, according to research.
The researchers asked participants to select up to three values from a list of 16 they had seen depicted in the movie that they were asked to remember. Some of these values included “personal achievement and achievement”, “love and intimacy” and “courage and bravery”. Participants then rated the personal importance of each value.
“We found that people felt better able to make sense of the difficulties in their own lives when they recalled a movie that focused on values that were important to them,” Slater said.
“This happened even when the film was ranked as one of the least significant films.”
The results suggest why many people see movies as more than just entertainment, Ott said.
“There are movies that can help people cope and grow during difficult times in their lives,” he said. “And people can recognize this effect years after seeing a particular movie.”