Toying with Emotions

We all know that most movies aren’t real, yet we still react emotionally to the ones we

watch. Sometimes we cry during a movie, we leave feeling like we could rule the world, and

sometimes we end up being terrified of the dark for a week because we watched a particularly

terrifying horror movie. John Lasseter said that “I love movies that make me cry, because they’re

tapping into a real emotion in me, and I always think afterwards: how did they do that?” Even

though we subconsciously realize that what we see on the movie screen is fictional, they still

have immense power to affect our emotions.

According the Washington University psychology professor Jeff Zacks, there are

multiple parts of our brains that cause us to react to the things that we see on the movie screen.

Luckily, we also have a defense system. The part of the brain that helps us distinguish reality

from fiction is called the prefrontal cortex. This is the same part of the brain that is associated

with self-control. Zacks commented that the people who have damage to this particular part of

the brain are much more likely to take movies as being real life rather than fiction. Kids are also

more affected by movies because this part of their brain is not fully developed yet. This

underdeveloped section of the brain is what makes them hide when they see something scary on

the screen. Little kids have a limited ability to realize when things are real and when they aren’t.

Another thing that causes us to react to movies is called the Mirror Rule, according to A.

Pawlowski. Basically this rule says that we tend to mimic the visual input we are seeing. So if we

see someone smiling on the TV screen, we smile back, and smiling triggers a positive emotional

reaction. On the opposite side, if we see someone crying on the screen, our natural instinct is for

our eyes to well up, and to feel sad.

Music also has a big affect on the way we feel at movies. Just add the right soundtrack to

an already good movie, and the viewers will be putty in the filmmaker’s hands. The size of the

screen does play a little bit of a part in your emotions. Pawlowski also says that you are more

likely to get emotional in a movie theater than watching something on your phone because of the


Movies have a huge amount of power to affect us, especially when it comes to our

emotions. Because movies have such an immense power over our emotions, they also have the

ability to change other things. Nicholas Cage said that “I may be alone in this, but I do sense the

power of film, in that movies have the ability to literally change people's minds. That's pretty

powerful stuff when you consider that.”