Warning! This post contains season 1 spoilers!

Netflix hit, Stranger Things has returned to our screens, and thanks to some amazing advances in TV tech, we can really enjoy a fully immersive viewing experience. But what are the true effects of a great show combined with modern-day technology, on our bodies and minds? Well, we decided to find out by teaming up with Liverpool John Moores University to research the effects of different emotional stimuli on our reactions.

But before we get into all the scientific stuff, check out this graphic that shows how our 21 participants’ fear responses changed while watching one of Stranger Things’ most memorable scenes from season one.

 

 
As you can see from the graph, when participants started watching, their corrugator muscles (the emotionally sensitive muscles positioned at the eyebrow) were pretty inactive. However, by the time Barb disappears, they’re displaying tons of activity! Way more than they had originally reported.
 

 

 

 

 

The Methodology: 

To investigate the relationship between different emotional stimuli and our  reactions, the team from LJMU curated a series of film clips designed to trigger muscular responses to emotions such as anxiety, fear, happiness and sadness. The list included scenes from some of our favourite movies and TV shows, including La La Land, Planet Earth 2 and of course, Stranger Things.

To get a more thorough look at the experiment, and hear from the team behind the research, watch our video below!

 

For this experiment, the team chose to employ a Psychophysiological technique, called Facial Electromyography – or EMG for short. This technique involves placing electrodes on the participants’ cheek and eyebrow in order to measure responses from two muscles, the Corrugator Supercili and the Zygomaticus Major. Here’s where they are on your face…

 

The participants’ responses to the clips where then recorded and analysed, giving us an interesting insight into how people are really feeling, compared to how they think they are reacting. Read on to find out more – the results might surprise you.

 

 

 

 

When is a smile really a smile?

So, it’s clear that we find Stranger Things pretty scary. But what about the other emotions?

Stranger Things isn’t the only content that got the same “upside down” response. In many instances, participants claimed to be unaffected emotionally by clips, but their face gave them away. Measuring their muscle activity, the following was discovered for happiness, sadness and anxiety:

Happiness
The same group were shown two clips from multi-award-winning La La Land. When asked, they claimed to experience only the slightest increase in happiness (just 13%) , but their bodies showed an increase of ten times that rate!

Sadness
Following the scene from I am Legend when Robert Neville’s dog, Sam, dies, there’s once again a contradiction between what viewers said they felt and what they actually felt. They reported a significant 63% increase in sadness, but their corrugator muscles (the ones used to frown) showed a rise of three times that rate, so they were even sadder than they thought!

Anxiety
For this category, participants were shown the famous ‘snake vs iguana chase’ clip from Planet Earth II. Viewers reported a staggering 299% increase in feelings of anxiety, and yet their bodies were only displaying a 2% increase, suggesting that anxiety is, perhaps, a far more cerebral emotion than happiness, sadness or fear. We all remember being frozen to the spot whilst watching this!

So what’s the moral of the story? Maybe watch these types of shows with the blinds closed. Not only will you get the full cinematic experience, but your friends won’t be able to see how much your face could be giving away!

Thanks for reading!

 

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By Martin Williams on 27.11.17

Guest Contributor

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