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The apparent reality of movies and emotional arousal: A study using physiological and self-report measures

2012-09, Rooney, Brendan, Benson, Ciarán, Hennessy, Eilis

Historical developments of cinema technology have contributed to the apparent reality of movie-goers' experience. The current study uses both self-report and physiological measures (heart-rate, skin conductance, skin temperature) as indices of 29 participants' negative emotional arousal, so as to investigate the effect of increasing a movie's perceptual realism (i.e., stereoscopic depth) on emotional experience. Data were recorded while half of the participants viewed emotional movie scenes in 3D and half viewed them in 2D. The groups did not differ significantly in terms of their self-reported feelings of negative emotional arousal, tonic skin conductance level or skin temperature. However, the 3D group reported their experience as significantly more perceptually realistic (natural), and they also demonstrated a significantly higher heart-rate change-score than their counterparts in the 2D condition. Importantly, the current study provides evidence that these results are not due to group differences in emotional sensitivity, engagement, or the novelty of the 3D effect. Group differences in heart-rate, but not skin conductance level, suggest that increasing stereoscopic depth reduces the emotional regulation processes. Although caution is expressed about assumptions of causation, consideration is given to the idea that increased physiological arousal contributes to perceived apparent reality and vice versa.