Emotionally Charged Movies Get Your Hunger Going

Bucket of buttery popcorn Chances are good you don’t keep track of the popcorn left over at the end of watching a movie. But if you’re anything like a team of researchers who have released a number of interesting results about how much movies make you eat, the amount you throw out is seriously important. They used the amount of popcorn people throw away as one measure of how movie choice affected eating habits. Taken together, their findings show that a movie’s emotional impact makes a big difference in how much you eat.

What were the researchers studying?

The team had found some evidence that different types of movies could affect the way people ate. They wanted to get a better sense of which genres were most appetite-inducing and why that might be the case. To test that, they set up a number of different experiments. In one study, they went out to movie theaters and had watchers take popcorn in to watch a comedy or a tragedy. Then they swapped the movie type and measured the amount of popcorn they ate during each movie type. They did the same experiment in a movie theater, but this time they measured the number of boxes and the amount of popcorn thrown away at the end of the happiest and saddest rated movies in the theater.

What did the researchers find?

Those who watched a sad movie ate much more than they did during a happy movie. This was the case both in direct measurements of how much people ate in the first study and in the number of boxes versus amount of popcorn left over in the second study. In the second study, there was about one third more popcorn thrown away in happy movies compared with sad movies. That meant that people watching the saddest movie ate about one third more than people watching the happiest movie.

How does this fit in with emotional impact?

These findings go along with other research the team has done that found people ate significantly more during fast-paced action movies than during slower-paced TV shows, which goes along with the idea that more emotional movies make you eat more. But another study also found that those watching documentaries, which are hardly emotional, tended to eat more than those watching comedies.

The researchers think there are two things going on. The first is that an emotionally compelling movie pushes you to eat more mindlessly. You pay less attention to what’s going into your mouth when you’re watching a cliff-hanger than when you’re watching something less compelling. At the same time, setting matters. If you’re at home watching a documentary and you run out of snacks, you probably don’t mind getting up for more because you’re not as concerned you’ll miss something. But if you’re watching a comedy and you think the punch line is around the corner, you’re unlikely to go for a refill.

How does this affect me?

The authors say these findings point to one major conclusion: Snack availability is crucial to determining how much you eat during a movie. The message isn’t necessarily to stop watching action movies so you can lose weight. Instead, you can use the findings to hack your mindless eating habits. For example, if you need to get more fruits and veggies into your diet, put a snack form in a bowl and turn on an action movie. Chances are good they’ll be gone by the end even if you’re not a huge fan. If you know the show or movie is going to be slower, portion out what you want to eat beforehand so that when you go back for more you’ve already determined what you can eat and how much you can have.