December 5, 2007
Thumbs Up? Thumbs Down? Moviegoers Follow the Crowd
At the movies, everyone's a critic. But new research suggests individual critiques are not so individualized.
The enjoyment of a movie appears to be contagious.
In a series of videotaped tests, researchers had one group of volunteers watch movies alone; another group watched together but with partitions that blocked their view of each other; a third group watched together in a normal theater setting.
While people reacted differently to specific scenes, those watching together tended to evaluate a film with the same broad mood swings. This "group think" was not found among those who watched alone. Turns out the moviegoers were glancing at each other throughout the film, adopting the expressions they saw on others.
"When asked how much they had liked the film, participants reported higher ratings the more their assessments lined up with the other person," explained Suresh Ramanathan and Ann L. McGill at the University of Chicago. "By mimicking expressions, people catch each others' moods leading to a shared emotional experience. That feels good to people and they attribute that good feeling to the quality of the movie."
The study is detailed in the December issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.
The researchers wrote: "Participants who looked at each other at the same time appeared to note whether the other person's face expressed the same or different emotion than their own. Perceived congruity of expressions caused participants to stick with their current emotional expression ... Perceived incongruity, on the other hand, led to a dampening of subsequent expressions."