Category: Media

What Makes For A “Meaningful” Death In Fiction?

By Emily Reynolds

Death can be a powerful narrative tool. We sob over the demise of a beloved character, cheer at the comeuppance of our favourite villain, or sit at the edge of our seats, shocked at deaths we didn’t see coming. Red Wedding, anyone?

All deaths are not created equal, however, and in a new study Kaitlin Fitzgerald from the State University of New York and team look at what makes certain fictional deaths so memorable. The team reports that although we find some deaths pleasurable — the long-awaited downfall of an antagonist, for example — it’s those we find meaningful that truly stick with us in the long-term.

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Film Soundtracks Shape Our Impressions Of A Character’s Personality And Thoughts

By Emma Young

If you sit down to watch TV or a film these holidays, you might want to pay a little extra attention to how the soundtrack makes you feel. We all know that background music influences the tone of a scene but what, exactly, soundtracks do to our understanding of a character has not been studied in detail. In a new paper, in Frontiers in Psychology, Alessandro Ansani at Roma Tre University, Italy, and colleagues report work aimed at filling in some of the gaps.

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Study Finds People Who Played Video Games For Longer Had Greater Wellbeing (But Direction Of Causality Isn’t Yet Clear)

Photo: A user plays Animal Crossing, one of the games studied in the new research. William West/AFP via Getty Images

By Matthew Warren

Video games get blamed for a lot. There are long-standing debates about whether violence in video games leads to real-world aggression, or whether video game “addiction” is something we should worry about. And some people have broader fears that more time spent on screens negatively affects our mental health and wellbeing.

However, an increasing number of studies have failed to find much evidence to back up these kinds of concerns. But the field suffers from some pretty big limitations. In particular, studies often rely on people reporting their own time spent consuming media — and we’re notoriously unreliable at making those sorts of estimates.

Enter a new study from Niklas Johannes and colleagues at the Oxford Internet Institute, published as a preprint on PsyArxiv earlier this week. The researchers find that more time spent playing video games actually relates to greater wellbeing (though there are plenty of caveats to that finding — more on those later). But the most interesting part of the study is really its methodology: rather than relying on people reporting their own video game use, the researchers established a rare collaboration with games companies in order to get precise data.

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People Who Crave Structure Are More Likely To Declare That Errors In Media Reports Are “Fake News”

By Emily Reynolds

There’s been much interest in what drives fake news over the last few years: who exactly shares it, and why? But beyond actual fake news — that is, purposefully misleading information spread online to further a particular agenda — recent years have also seen many people labelling genuine journalism as untrustworthy or downright false.

There are obvious ideological drivers to this, with some keen to undermine political opponents by any means necessary. But there might be another reason people are drawn to declaring “fake news!”: a need for order.

Viewing publications as susceptible to honest mistakes or human error implies a world in which information can be distorted for unpredictable reasons; viewing them as deliberately and methodically deceiving readers for sinister reasons, on the other hand, implies some sort of order. It therefore follows that those who crave structure may also be more likely to deem articles false, suggest Jordan R. Axt from McGill University and colleagues in a study in Psychological Science.

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Engaging With The Arts Is Related To Greater Wellbeing (But It’s Not Entirely Clear Why)

By Emma Young

Social isolation and fears for our family and friends, as well as ourselves, have all affected psychological wellbeing during the COVID-19 lockdown. But being unable to visit an art gallery, theatre or live music venues may also have taken its toll. According to new research by Peter Todderdell at the University of Sheffield and Giulia Poerio at the University Essex, such experiences contribute to wellbeing in a way that watching a sporting event, for example, does not. The pair’s new paper, published in Emotion, presents the first longitudinal examination of the effect of engaging with the “artistic imagination” — rather than actively taking part in an artistic endeavour — on wellbeing.

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How Do Films Like ‘Joker’ Shape Attitudes Towards People With Mental Health Issues?

Photo: A billboard for Joker displayed in West Hollywood in 2019. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

By Emily Reynolds

Much of the discourse surrounding mental health over the last few years has focused on stigma: breaking down those unhelpful myths around mental illness that both prevent people seeking help and, sometimes, lead to outright discrimination.

What part culture has to play in this mission is an interesting question. Both the “madman” and the asylum have been a ubiquitous presence in cinema, literature and television, often to the chagrin of those who have had such stereotypes directly affect their lives. A new study, published in JAMA Network Open, has looked at the impact one recent film, Joker, might have had on prejudice. Continue reading “How Do Films Like ‘Joker’ Shape Attitudes Towards People With Mental Health Issues?”

Responsible Reporting Is Vital In Media Coverage Of Suicide

By Emily Reynolds

Exactly how the media discusses suicide is a topic of frequent debate. Plenty of research has linked media reporting  of suicide with an increase in suicidal behaviour, and both the Samaritans and the World Health Organization (WHO), amongst others, have clear (and frequently promoted) guides for journalists on how to report suicide.

But such guidelines are often ignored in favour of insensitivity or sensationalism — especially when the person at hand is a celebrity. Take the recent coverage of the death of Caroline Flack: explicit, deeply intimate details were plastered across tabloids for weeks, with seemingly no thought for how those details would impact readers.

Now a new review, published in the British Medical Journal, has taken a closer look at just how serious the problem is.

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Taking Selfies Is Probably Fine For Your Self-Esteem. Editing Them Might Not Be

By Emily Reynolds

There’s been a lot of back and forth about the psychological effects of taking and sharing selfies. Some research suggests that taking pictures of yourself can dent your self-esteem and increase anxiety, while other studies have found that selfies can be a source of empowerment; one 2017 paper even found a combination of the two, suggesting that sharing selfies online can mitigate the damage to self-image often inflicted when a selfie is actually taken.

The hundreds of op-eds, articles and TV features that continue to focus on the issue also suggest that our interest in the phenomenon is unlikely to abate any time soon. And now a new study published in the Journal of Children and Media has added to the debate.

It suggests that taking selfies may not be as damaging as other research has claimed. Instead, it’s what you do after you’ve taken the photo that matters: it’s editing images that really hurts our self-esteem.

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People Who Watch More TV Find Thinner Women More Attractive, Even In Remote Nicaraguan Communities

By Emma Young

What makes for an attractive female body? Whatever your views on this, across cultures, and socioeconomic groups in particular, there are some differences in opinion.

Western media, with its promotion of “thin ideals”, has been cited as an influence on attitudes. But the only way to really explore this is to study groups of people who are very similar, except that some have been exposed to Western media, while others have not. Needless to say, this isn’t easy. However, a team led by Lynda Boothroyd at the University of Durham has now published just such a set of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Their data suggests that TV exposure does indeed drive both men and women towards finding thinner female bodies more attractive.

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People With Depression May Find Sad Memes Funnier And More Uplifting

By Matthew Warren

Memes have become an integral part of online communication — and a ripe area for research. Underlying the simplicity of a grainy picture and a few words of text are countless more complex psychological questions. What determines why some memes go viral? How do they shape people’s political or social views? And in what ways do our perceptions of memes change depending on our personalities — or even on our mental health?

To this latter question, at least, a new study in Scientific Reports has some answers. Researchers have found that depressed people seem to enjoy memes with depression-related themes more than non-depressed individuals — a finding that points at differences in how people with mental health difficulties use humour as a coping mechanism.

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