Posts tagged “sadness”

ChittahChattah Quickies

The Saddest Movie in the World [] Describes the rigorous process of choosing clips that will reliably evoke various emotions for clinical research purposes, and how the use of movies to elicit unpleasant emotional responses is considered humane and ethical. It’s incredible that a Ricky Schroder scene from the rather obscure The Champ has been scientifically deemed sadder than, say, Bambi’s Mom dying or Old Yeller. Can’t argue with science! (But I’d bet that the first 5 minutes of Up would beat them all.) Another gem here: the two clips that are proven most effective in generating feelings of disgust – yes, I’m on about disgust again! – are an amputation and… Pink Flamingos!

The story of how a mediocre movie became a good tool for scientists dates back to 1988, when Robert Levenson, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and his graduate student, James Gross, started soliciting movie recommendations from colleagues, film critics, video store employees and movie buffs. “Everybody thinks it’s easy,” Levenson says. Levenson and Gross ended up evaluating more than 250 films and film clips. They edited the best ones into segments a few minutes long and selected 78 contenders.

Scientists testing emotions in research subjects have resorted to a variety of techniques, including playing emotional music, exposing volunteers to hydrogen sulfide (“fart spray”) to generate disgust or asking subjects to read a series of depressing statements. They’ve rewarded test subjects with money or cookies to study happiness or made them perform tedious and frustrating tasks to study anger. “In the old days, we used to be able to induce fear by giving people electric shocks,” Levenson says. Ethical concerns now put more constraints on how scientists can elicit negative emotions. Sadness is especially difficult. How do you induce a feeling of loss or failure in the laboratory without resorting to deception or making a test subject feel miserable? “You can’t tell them something horrible has happened to their family, or tell them they have some terrible disease,” says William Frey II, a University of Minnesota neuroscientist who has studied the composition of tears. But as Gross says, “films have this really unusual status.” People willingly pay money to see tearjerkers-and walk out of the theater with no apparent ill effect. As a result, “there’s an ethical exemption” to making someone emotional with a film, Gross says.


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