A research team at Oxford University has released a study about tearjerkers and their ability to release endorphins in viewers, a natural painkiller.
The release of this painkiller — feel-good chemicals — has been proven to also help people bond with one another.
Meaning, if this study is to be believed, this is why there is such a thing as "a good date movie." Ideally, the movie can do the work for you by releasing drugs into your brain.
The studied revolved around trying to understand what it is exactly about fiction that human beings are so attracted to.
Robin Dunbar, who led the study, explained how fiction is common to all cultures but said,
The reasons why fiction can be so engrossing and the functions for this have not been widely studied by psychologists or behavioural biologists.
Sociologists, on the other hand, have been writing and thinking about this for centuries. Dunbar continued,
There are good social reasons: folklore enables us to pass on wisdom or ingrain community values, bringing us together. While that is important, it does not fully explain why we are willing to return again and again to be entertained.
But what this research team wanted to ascertain was whether there was a chemical, scientifically discernible component at play here. Namely, in what way endorphins and chemicals like them were released while people watched dramas.
The study worked as follows:
One group of subjects were shown “Stuart: A Life Backwards,” an emotional film about a homeless man. The other group of subjects operated as the control, and they were shown documentaries of, as the BBC describes them, “neutral subjects.”
This is where it gets weird.
So, as I've explained, endorphins are a natural painkiller. So the researchers decided to give the volunteers some pain and see how well they dealt with it.
They made the subjects do wall-sits. Basically, pressing your back against a wall and bending your knees like you're in a chair.
In other words, a squat. And then they told them to hold it for as long as they could.
Dunbar's team found that the people who had watched “Stuart: A Life Backwards” were able to take the most pain. They also found that this group felt the strongest bond with the other members of their group.
This would imply that endorphins were being released during the viewing.
Dunbar admitted, of course, that there were likely a slew of chemicals and psychological components at play other than endorphins, but that the release of this chemical is, at least, “an important reason for our enjoyment of fiction.”
So, basically, if you're addicted to romantic comedies, you are, in a way, actually addicted to a light painkiller.