Dr's Casebook: Regular cinema visits could help improve your wellbeing

We went to the movies last weekend to see West Side Story, Steven Spielberg’s superb adaptation of the 1957 musical.

Dr Keith Souter writes: Of course, the last two years have not been easy for the entertainment industry, but gradually theatres, cinemas and shows are pulling audiences back. This has got to be good for people’s wellbeing.

We felt Covid-safe and comfortable in the local cinema and left having had a good experience after seeing an enjoyable movie.

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Indeed, this is quite in keeping with research that was carried out and published by psychologists from University College London just before the pandemic started.

Research shows that regular cinema trips help boost wellbeing. Photo: Getty Images

Their conclusion was that regular cinema trips help boost wellbeing, and showed that a few hours watching the silver screen has positive benefits on a person’s mental and physical state.

The study was conducted by psychologists working in a cinema. They found a direct link between watching a film and the impact it has on brain function, social connections, and emotional balance.

Using a combination of biometric devices, not unlike the Fitbits people wear during exercise and searching questionnaires, they were able to look at and analyse what happens physiologically and psychologically while watching a two hour movie.

They found that the heart rates of the audience members rose during the viewing, even though they were simply sitting.

More than that, they were able to see that the heart rates rose and fell in keeping with the emotional narrative that was being played out on the film. This after all is what the movie makers want you to experience.

The questionnaires gave the researchers a way of measuring how the audience members felt.

The nature of a cinema viewing is not a social situation where people are chatting and mixing, yet people reported that they felt closer to people watching, by virtue of the shared experience.

Interestingly, despite the fact that the audience members were strangers to each other, their hearts began to beat in synchrony while watching the film.

Previous research has shown that when people demonstrate synchronised physiological responses like this, they actually do feel closer to their fellow audience members afterwards.

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