|Why Sad Fictional Tragedies Make People Happy|
|Living - Health & Fitness|
|TS-Si News Service|
|Tuesday, 27 March 2012 02:00|
Columbus, OH, USA. Can science explain why people enjoy tragedies that make them sad, even though philosophers have struggled with the question throughout recorded history?
People enjoy watching a film with tragic dimensions, such as Titanic because they deliver what may seem to be an unlikely benefit: tragedies actually make people happier in the short-term.
Researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) found that watching a tragedy movie caused people to think about their own close relationships, which in turn boosted their life happiness. The result was that what seems like a negative experience watching a sad story made people happier by bringing attention to some positive aspects in their own lives. “Tragic stories often focus on themes of eternal love, and this leads viewers to think about their loved ones and count their blessings,” said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, lead co-author and associate professor of communication.
Aristotle (384–322 BC), the Greek philosopher, argued (some would say dictated) in his Poetics (335 BCE) that the purgation of emotion (catharsis) is the correct goal of tragedy.
According to Aristotle, such work fetures a great person whose firtunes are reversed as told in stories of equally great seriousness and dignity.
The human suffering depicted in the tragedy invokes catharsis or pleasure in those who view it.
Modernist literature has extended and revisd this definition by rejecting the focus of such dramas to powerful and high status people.
In Tragedy and the Common Man (1949), the playright Arthur Miller(October 17, 1915 – February 10, 2005) argues that ordinary people in everyday surroundings are proper subjects for tragedy.The findings appear in the journal Communication Research. The study participants were 361 college students who viewed an abridged version of the 2007 movie Atonement, which involves two lovers who are separated and die as war casualties. Before and after viewing the movie, the respondents were asked several questions which measured how happy they were with their life.
What people wrote about as a result of seeing the movie was a key in understanding why people enjoy viewing fictional tragedies, Knobloch-Westerwick said.
Acording to Knobloch-Westerwick, People seem to use tragedies as a way to reflect on the important relationships in their own life, to count their blessings. “That can help explain why tragedies are so popular with audiences, despite the sadness they induce.”
The researchers also tested the theory that people may feel more happiness after viewing a tragedy movie because they compare themselves to the characters portrayed and feel good that their own lives are not as bad.
But that wasn’t the case. People whose thoughts after the movie were about themselves rather than about their close relationships did not experience an increase in life happiness.
“Tragedies don’t boost life happiness by making viewers think more about themselves. They appeal to people because they help them to appreciate their own relationships more,” she said. But why would people have to get sad by watching a tragedy to feel grateful about relationships in their own lives?
The key is the extent to which viewers thought about their own relationships as a result of watching the movie. The more they thought about their loved ones, the greater the increase in their happiness. Viewers who had self-centered thoughts concerning the movie such as My life isn’t as bad as the characters in this movie did not see an increase in their happiness.
Knobloch-Westerwick said this fits with research in psychology that suggests negative moods make people more thoughtful. “Positive emotions are generally a signal that everything is fine, you don’t have to worry, you don’t have to think about issues in your life,” she said. “But negative emotions, like sadness, make you think more critically about your situation. So seeing a tragic movie about star-crossed lovers may make you sad, but that will cause you to think more about your own close relationships and appreciate them more.”
Research has also shown that relationships are generally the major source of happiness in our lives, so it is no surprise that thinking about your loved ones would make you happier, she said. “Tragedies bring to mind close relationships, which makes us happy.”
ParticipationSilvia Knobloch-Westerwick conducted the study with Yuan Gong, a graduate student, and Holly Hagner and Laura Kerkeybian, both undergraduates, all at Ohio State University (OSU).
CitationTragedy Viewers Count Their Blessings: Feeling low on Fiction Leads to Feeling High on Life. Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, Yuan Gong, Holly Hagner, Laura Kerbeykian. Communication Research 2012. doi:10.1177/0093650212437758
Hypotheses were derived from downward comparison and attachment theory to address the tragedy paradox: more sadness produces greater tragedy enjoyment. Participants (n = 361) watched a tragedy and reported affect, enjoyment, life happiness, and spontaneous thoughts (categorized into self- vs. socio-focused). Greater sadness led to greater enjoyment, mediated by life reflection; specifically, both self- and socio-focused thoughts mediated this sadness impact on tragedy enjoyment. Furthermore, more sadness led to greater life happiness increase during exposure, mediated by socio-focused thoughts only. No parallel effects emerged for positive affect. The present findings suggest that tragedy-induced sadness instigates (a) life reflection that increases tragedy enjoyment as well as (b) specifically thoughts about close relationships that, in turn, raise life happiness, which (c) subsequently increases tragedy enjoyment further.
|Last Updated on Monday, 26 March 2012 21:36|