Enjoying Movies Is Contagious

Audience members view the opening scenes of the 12:01 a.m. showing of "Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace" at the Edwards Cinema in Santa Maria, Calif., Wednesday, May 19, 1999. Those attending had purchased their tickets a week earlier and waited in line for over six hours to obtain their seats. (AP Photo/Santa Maria Times, Jeffrey M. Greene)
AP/J.M. Greene, Santa Maria Times
Seeing a movie this weekend? The person sitting next to you may affect how much you like the movie, even if they're a complete stranger.

People give movies higher ratings if they're in sync with the people they sit with, a new study shows.

The study comes from the University of Chicago, where pairs of students watched the same video clip or short film at the same time.

Some students sat alone. Others sat next to a stranger they saw with their peripheral vision . Still others couldn't see the stranger sitting next to them because a partition blocked their view.

While the clips played, the students used a joystick to rate how much they liked or disliked what they saw on the screen.

Students sitting next to someone they could see tended to mirror their neighbor's reactions.

For instance, if a student smiled at the screen, the student sitting next to them saw that grin out of their peripheral vision and nudged their joystick in the "like" direction.

The students didn't realize they were doing that, according to interviews conducted after the experiment.

The students gave the movies higher ratings if they and the person they sat with (and could see) had similar reactions to the movies. In other words, being in sync with their neighbor made the whole experience more positive.

The researchers - who included Suresh Ramanathan, Ph.D., associate professor of marketing - suggest that other shared experiences - such as attending a concert or taking a flight - may spread emotions in a similar way, but studies are needed to check that idea.

The study appears in the Journal of Consumer Research.
By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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