It seems paradoxical that we intentionally expose ourselves to stories that cause us to feel negative emotions when in our own lives we try to avoid negative experiences. Thalia Goldstein, a researcher at Pace University, has recently addressed this puzzling phenomenon with a study that examined the emotional reactions of individuals in three situations: (1) viewing a sad movie presented as based on a true story, (2) viewing a sad movie presented as entirely fictional, and (3) experiencing a sad event in one’s own life. The participants in the study were asked to report on how sad and how anxious the movie or experience made them feel. Interestingly, there were no differences in reported sadness or anxiety after viewing the movie clips thought to be fiction or non-fiction. However, for those who had experienced an event in their lives that mirrored what they saw on screen, the negative emotions they felt while viewing were intensified. Individuals also felt greater sadness and anxiety in response to a personally-experienced sad event compared to viewing a sad event on screen. Finally, although there was no difference in level of sadness for either remembering a personal sad event or viewing a sad movie, there was greater anxiety reported after remembering the personal event. Overall, this pattern of results suggests that we might intentionally seek out sad stories because they allow us to release sad emotions without the accompanying anxiety that we feel in our real lives.
Posted by Tonia Relkov.
For a copy of the original article, click here.
Article reference: Goldstein, T. R. (2009). The pleasure of unadulterated sadness: Experiencing sorrow in fiction, nonfiction, and "in person." Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 3, 232-237.
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