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Canned Emotions. Effects of Genre and Audience Reaction on Emotions

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Laughter is said to be contagious. Maybe this is why TV stations often choose to add so-called canned laughter to their shows. Questionable as this practice may be, observers seem to like it. If such a simple manipulation, assumingly by inducing positive emotion, can change our attitudes toward the film, does the opposite manipulation work as well? Does a negative sound-track, such as screaming voices, have comparable effects in the opposite direction? We designed three experiments with a total of 110 participants to test whether scream-tracks have comparable effects on the evaluation of film sequences as do laugh-tracks. Experiment 1 showed segments of comedies, scary, and neutral films and crossed them with three sound tracks of canned laughter, canned screams, and no audience sound. Observers had to rate the degree of their subjective amusement and fear as well as general liking and immersion. The sound-tracks had independent effects on amusement and fear, and increased immersion when the sound was appropriate. Experiment 2 was identical, but instead of canned sounds, confederates of the experimenter enacted the sound-track. Here, the effects were even stronger. Experiment 3 manipulated social pressure by explicit evaluations of the film clips, which were particularly influential in comedies. Scream tracks worked as well as laugh tracks, in particular when the film was only mildly funny or scary. The information conveyed by a sound track is able to change the evaluation of films regardless of their emotional nature.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, Wallstraße 3, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, D-55099 Mainz, Germany


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