Films and movies play a major part in many people’s lives, allowing them to escape daily life stressors and constraints by turning to a fictional realm. And yet, when watching a movie at the end of the day, you may feel guilty thinking to yourself that there’s something more productive you should do than just look at the screen. If you’ve ever felt this way, we’re here to tell you that watching a movie has a bigger impact on your life than you may think – and from a psychological perspective, it actually brings a range of benefits, shaping your identity as a person.

In fact, cinema therapy is a concept that has been around for several years. It functions as a treatment for mental health issues, a means of promoting reflection, and a means of enhancing empathy. So, if you’ve ever felt empowered after watching a movie, that’s because movies do have the potential to fuel inspiration.

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How movies influence your attitudes and beliefs

Research shows that watching movies can have a huge impact on your attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes, especially when it comes to stigmatized groups. For instance, when you choose a movie that depicts mental illnesses, this can help reduce the stigma associated with them and make you feel seen and understood. Similarly, when you watch a movie about immigration, surprisingly, it helps reduce prejudice towards immigrants.

In the context of social issues, watching movies such as The Day After Tomorrow, which illustrates catastrophic water events, can raise concern and awareness about climate issues in today’s world. On the other hand, superhero movies, such as Iron Man and Dark Knight, have a significant role in shifting the attitudes of audiences regarding mass surveillance and torture policies. These movies have such a significant influence on the viewers that people usually visit websites like the Funko UK & Europe shop to purchase items inspired by them. Furthermore, studies show that the portrayal of characters in movies can fuel changes in attitudes: for instance, watching the Serbian film The Parade led to a reduction in homophobia, which existed before viewing the film. In other words, these findings suggest that portraying stigmatized groups in a positive light can diminish negative attitudes and discrimination, making room for more empathy and tolerance.

The power of movies to evoke strong emotions in viewers

Have you ever found yourself flinching, weeping or giggling while watching a movie? Chances are, you have because these are simply the effects that films can have on you. According to a 2011 study, watching a horror movie increased feelings of fear among viewers. Similarly, watching a sad film caused viewers to experience sadness, while aggressive movies led to hostile attitudes. It might be surprising, but it’s what research has found – movies have a direct effect on the emotions you experience. But why is that so? Well, it’s due to a process known as the mirroring rule, which illustrates the human tendency to imitate another individual’s emotions, which evokes a specific emotion in someone and helps you empathize with the other person.

When you see someone smiling on a screen, the tendency is to smile as well, which creates a sense of happiness – this is the mirroring rule.

Similarly, when there’s a sad scene in a movie, you will naturally feel the emotion as if you were in that person’s shoes. You may not have been aware of these things before, but a movie is never just a movie – it’s a medium that influences how you feel, think and act, so next time you browse the list on Netflix, you will likely be more conscious about the choice you make regarding the next movie you will watch.

Movies inspire you to take positive action in your life

Did you know that therapists actually rely on movies to help their clients develop what’s best in themselves? In cinema therapy, the concept that we mentioned at the beginning of the article, a therapist chooses a movie that addresses a topic that the client currently wants to work on in their life and recommends them to watch the film ( or watch it together) only to explore how it applies to the life of the client. Cinema therapy can be a significant catalyst for change in the therapeutical process, as it can help clients grow by connecting with character strengths – which they can likely find in themselves as well, whether it’s kindness, curiosity, forgiveness, bravery or hope.

How does this happen? Well, two phenomena are at play, namely elevation and admiration. The former term was described by Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist, as an uplifting feeling you experience when seeing moral excellence depicted through unexpected acts of courage, kindness, compassion, and goodness. Experiencing feelings of elevation encourages behavior that can benefit others, such as volunteering and charitable donations. On the other hand, admiration is the way you react to other forms of excellence, such as reading the biography of a missionary inventor or watching an Olympic athlete.

Simply put, when you get this feeling while watching a movie, you can experience energy and chills in your body and feel motivated to work on self-improvement. After connecting on a deeper level to a character, people emulate the behavior they see in those people, acting in ways that support their growth. For example, a psychologist mentioned that after witnessing forgiveness in the movie A Better Life, someone reconnected with their estranged son, while another individual felt motivated to do acts of kindness after watching the popular movie Amelie. With this in mind, you can use movies to grow your strengths, whether social intelligence, love or kindness. Or, if you feel like you lack enthusiasm in one area of your life, search for a movie that will give you the emotional push to help you move forward. The good news is that there are tons of movies you can choose from, but the key is to select the one that resonates with you and inspires you to be a better person – and to chase your big dreams.

The bottom line

Movies are not just a way to pass the time – they can bring rampant social change, shape your identity, beliefs, and attitudes, and inspire you to improve your life. Ultimately, as someone who consumes content, it’s essential to pay attention to what kind of movies you decide to watch because, as you can see, they have a significant impact on who you are as a person – so why not use them to tap into the best version of yourself?