Netflix and heal: a bit of drama could be good for your health

TV watching

Researchers at Oxford University have found that watching dramatic films acts as a natural painkiller and helps us with social bonding.

After performing a series of experiments, the researchers said their results suggested that when we watch tragic and dramatic it triggers a rush of endorphins, the chemicals that make us feel good.

We all have those films that we love to watch even though they make us power through a box of tissues and these findings could explain it as something other than a proclivity for masochism.

Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford and leader of the research said that "Fiction is widely studied by humanities academics as it is an important feature of human society, common to all cultures."

Until now, however, scientists haven't really investigated the evolutionary reasons and functions behind our fiction fascination.

Sore head? Try Titanic

Dunbar said that "there are good social reasons" for it as "folklore enables us to pass on wisdom or ingrain community values, bringing us together." Yet we still don't know exactly why we return to the same kinds of stories for entertainment.

As part of their experiments the researchers showed a group of volunteers the film Stuart: A Life Backwards, the story of a homeless alcoholic who went through a traumatic childhood.

A second group watched documentaries about topics that were significantly less emotionally heavy-handed.

Before and after watching the films the volunteers had their pain thresholds tested as a means of measuring endorphin release.

Don't worry, the pain threshold test was a wall-sit, not thumb screws.

The researchers found that those who had had the greatest emotional response to what they watched had the greatest increase in pain threshold, as well as the greatest sense of having bonded with their group.

Professor Dunbar acknowledged that this chemical reaction is unlikely to be the sole reason behind our love of dramatic fiction but said that he believes it is, at the very least, "an important reason."

Dr Sophie Duncan, who also worked on the research, said that the study showed ''you can give yourself an endorphin high through fiction' and told the BBC that watching tragic fiction is "good for our health" thanks to the endorphin boost it provides.

Emma Boyle

Emma Boyle is TechRadar’s ex-Gaming Editor, and is now a content developer and freelance journalist. She has written for magazines and websites including T3, Stuff and The Independent. Emma currently works as a Content Developer in Edinburgh.