If you were old enough to see a PG-13 movie in 1997, chances are you went to see Titanic. And chances are you cried. You might have even seen the film multiple times, doing your part to make it the highest-grossing sob fest in movie history. Now, a new study suggests why people want to see tragedies like Titanic over and over again: Watching dramas together builds social bonds and even raises our tolerance for physical pain.
“Why on Earth would we waste so much of our time and money going back to novels and films that make us cry?” evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and his team asked at the beginning of the new study.
The results are “quite interesting,” says Alexander Shackman, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, College Park, who was not involved with the work. Still, the fact that the Roman chair pain sensitivity test did not directly measure endorphin release leaves open the possibility of other explanations for the increase in social bonding, he says. “We know that emotional films can have complex effects on the brain and that a number of other, nonopioid mechanisms can influence pain tolerance.” Other neuropeptides such as oxytocin, for example, also play a role in social bonding.
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