Study Probes How Sad Movies Make Viewers Happy

Tearjerkers prompt people to think about loved ones, boosting mood, researchers say

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SATURDAY, April 14 (HealthDay News) -- Watching sad movies makes people happier because it causes them to think about their loved ones, a new study finds.

"Tragic stories often focus on themes of eternal love, and this leads viewers to think about their loved ones and count their blessings," lead author Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, an associate professor of communication at Ohio State University in Columbus, said in a university news release.

The study included 361 college students who watched a shortened version of the movie Atonement, in which two lovers are separated and die during World War II. Before and after the movie, the participants were asked questions that measured how happy they were with their life.

The more the movie made participants think about their loved ones, the greater their increase in happiness. Participants who had self-centered thoughts during the movie -- such as, "My life isn't as bad as the characters in the movie" -- did not experience increased happiness.

"People seem to use tragedies as a way to reflect on the important relationships in their own life, to count their blessings," Knobloch-Westerwick said. "That can help explain why tragedies are so popular with audiences, despite the sadness they induce."

The study appears online and in an upcoming print issue of the journal Communication Research.

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