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Chemicals in our breath can reveal how we feel about movies

Engadget Engadget 13/05/2016 Mariella Moon
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The air inside movie theaters apparently reek of popcorn and suspense, though our noses can't exactly smell the latter. According to researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, audiences exhale chemicals that can indicate whether movies are funny or exciting. The team attached a mass spectrometer to a movie theater's air duct, which measured chemicals in the air every 30 seconds. Think of it as a big breathalyzer. Thanks to that instrument, they were able to collect data from 108 screenings (and 95,000 people) of 16 movies, including The Hunger Games 2, Carrie, The Hobbit and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

The team matched spikes in carbon dioxide and isoprene -- a chemical we also exhale -- levels with the most exciting parts of the movies. Further, they were able to determine the difference in the concentration of chemicals between funny and suspenseful scenes. They still haven't figured out why our bodies produce those two chemicals in bigger amounts during the most thrilling parts of a film. But a possible explanation is that we tend to breathe more quickly and become restless when we're tense or excited.

Filmmakers could use the same technique to monitor test audiences' breaths and gauge whether their movies would do well, or if they're boring enough to warrant going back to editing. The team also believes that their study could provide data for future research on the human respiration and metabolism. For now, they're still busy assessing even more data collected from viewers during Star Warsscreenings.

Nature, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry

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