Neurotics experience more immersion when watching films

Descriptions of neurotics are typically unflattering: they’re fearful, tense people, prone to catastrophise and will often shy away from challenges. Well, here’s some more uplifting news for folk matching this personality description. A study of film immersion has found that people who score highly in neuroticism (as measured by agreement with statements like “I worry a lot”) tend to feel more absorbed in films. This is associated with their enjoying horror and sad films less, but comedies more.

David Weibel and his team had 64 participants (average age 28 years) watch three movie clips taken from The Shining (the scene where the boy is playing in the hallway); The Champ (a boy’s father dies after suffering a severe beating in the ring); and When Harry Met Sally (the scene where Sally fakes an orgasm in a cafe). The participants, half of whom were students, rated how immersed they felt in the clips and how detached they felt from their real, physical environment. They also said how much they’d enjoyed the film excerpts.

The half of the participants who scored higher in neuroticism experienced more immersion during all three clips – happy, sad and scary – compared with the lower scorers in neuroticism. “A possible explanation,” the researchers said, “could be that neurotics usually have a highly reactive sympathetic nervous system making them sensitive to any environmental stimulation.”

The more neurotic participants also liked the scary and sad clips less, but enjoyed the funny clip more. The implication is that immersion mediates enjoyment, but unfortunately this wasn’t tested.

Weibel’s team said their finding has theoretical import because media experts tend to assume that engendering greater immersion in an audience will always lead to more enjoyment. “Our findings contradict this assumption,” they said. “In the two negatively connotated conditions, participants scoring high on neuroticism experienced more presence than those scoring low, but at the same time reported less enjoyment than individuals with low neuroticism scores. We therefore assume that for these participants, the feeling of being there in the sad or fearful world was experienced in a negative way. This in turn resulted in decreased enjoyment.”

ResearchBlogging.orgWeibel, D., Wissmath, B., & Stricker, D. (2011). The influence of neuroticism on spatial presence and enjoyment in films Personality and Individual Differences, 51 (7), 866-869 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2011.07.011

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

5 thoughts on “Neurotics experience more immersion when watching films”

  1. I absolutely agree. My clients who have a neurosis invariably are over- sensitive to sounds and this may indicate a percieved threat from the environment. Avoidance of horror films confirms a “something bad going to happen” feeling. All the sam, this has some relationship to old fashioned hysteria. Regards Coinneach Shanks


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