Tears of joy: crying at the movies can make you feel better

Laughing and crying

Dutch study shows filmgoers who were moved by a sad film got a belated emotional boost – but only if they allowed themselves to shed actual tears

Watching a sad film could actually improve your mood, but only if you’re prone to shedding a tear, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands studying the emotional effect of crying found participants were liable to experience a boost to their mood some time after weeping during a film. They first felt depressed, then recovered to a state of equilibrium, and only got the delayed emotional boost around 90 minutes later.

The study, for the journal Motivation and Emotion, explored the reaction of 60 people after viewing the Oscar-winning 1997 tear-jerker Life Is Beautiful, about a Jewish bookstore owner trying to shield his son from the horrors of life in a Nazi concentration camp, and the 2009 Lasse Hallström weepie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, in which Richard Gere forms a bond with a mutt he finds on a train platform. The 32 filmgoers who failed to be moved by either movie did not pick up any emotional boost, but the 28 who found themselves weeping into their popcorn got the full benefits of the experience.

Humans are the only animals capable of crying, and little is known about why we shed tears. Previous studies have only picked up on the emotional low experienced by audiences after crying during a film, so the researchers wanted to conduct their own experiment to find out whether the belief that one feels better “after a good cry” is a myth.

“After the initial deterioration of mood following crying, it takes some time for the mood not only to recover but also to be lifted above the levels at which it had been before the emotional event,” said study leader Asmir Gračanin.

The emotional boost was not tied to the number of times participants lost control. More research is needed to find out why filmgoers who cry get a belated emotional boost.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Ben Child, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 25th August 2015 11.38 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010