Movies are often viewed as the perfect way to relax: You sit in a comfy seat, eat some popcorn and tune out for two hours.
But there's a lot more to cinema than simply entertainment. Movies affect your brain and body in ways you may not be able to detect.
"Because many films transmit ideas through emotion rather than intellect, they can neutralize the instinct to suppress feelings and trigger emotional release," said Birgit Wolz, a psychologist focusing on movies as therapy, and author of "E-motion Picture Magic." "By eliciting emotions, watching movies can open doors that otherwise might stay closed."
So before you pick your next flick, make sure you know what you can expect.
Laughter can offer you distance from your problems and enhance your sense of well-being, Wolz said. In fact, numerous studies have shown that laughter can help your
, which constrict blood vessels and suppress hormone activity.
A study by researchers at the University of Maryland found that laughing while watching a comedic film causes your blood vessels to dilate by 22 percent. That's because when you laugh, the tissues forming the lining of your blood vessels expand and make room for an increase in blood flow. Translation: When you laugh at the movies, you're actually lowering your
to the same extent that you'd lower it when you do physical exercise, said Dr. Michael Miller, director of the University of Maryland's Center for Preventive Cardiology.
To get the biggest heart-healthy benefit from watching comedies, you should be watching movies that make you do a real belly laugh for at least 15 minutes, Miller said.
Know before you go: If you're worried about something and can't come to a good resolution, it's time to see a
. "Laughter while watching comedies can relieve anxiety, as well as reduce aggression and fear," Wolz said. "Often, clients are able to approach a solution to a problem they were worried about with less emotional involvement and a fresh and creative perspective after watching a humorous movie."
The people who are fascinated by
movies tend to be the same people who love to sky-dive, go rock climbing and try extreme skiing adventures.
"Riding at the edge of death is, somehow, strangely enough, what makes them feel most alive," Wolz said. And for many moviegoers, the horror genre allows them the opportunity to experience events and people who otherwise wouldn't enter their lives.
Horror films also affect your body physiologically, said Dr. George Bakris, who specializes in hypertensive diseases.
"Very intense movies do increase heart rate, and if you have coronary
, (they) can increase chest pain and blood pressure," Bakris said.
Know before you go: Watching a horror movie can cause a spike in adrenaline and
levels. That can trigger memories of traumatic events you have experienced, said Bruce McEwen, professor in the neuroendocrinology laboratory at The Rockefeller University in New York, and past president of the Society for Neuroscience. So if you have a bad memory that you don't want to subconsciously rehash, it would be best to avoid this genre until you're ready.
If you have a
, and you feel pain or think you're having coronary problems, you should leave the movie early, Bakris said. Everyone else's heart should be able to regulate, so you don't have to worry if you feel your pulse beating faster than normal during the intense moments.
While most movies are still viewed in 2-D, the 3-D genre is growing. It's filling the need to get involved in the movie, to feel the action and to literally feel yourself falling when the characters take their jumps and leaps. To watch a 3-D film, you need to create two different views of the same object, and get one view into your right eye and one into your left eye to create a sense of depth, said Justin Bazan, optometrist and owner of
Eye in New York. Once you've done that, your vision brings you into the movie on a much deeper level.
Know before you go: Watching this type of movie can cause
and nausea, Bazan said. That's because the depth makes you actually feel as if you're moving along with the characters. If you start to feel sick, leave the theater, and expect those feelings to subside within a few minutes. While a temporary imbalance is probably a normal response, it could also be a sign that you have a vision problem, Bazan said.
"It might signal an underlying problem, and maybe your visual system isn't performing up to an optimal level," he said. "If that's the case, talk to your optometrist to get checked for problems."
When you see a 3-D movie, it also can emphasize your minor eye problems. For example, if you don't see well out of both your eyes or if you have a severe problem in one eye, you'll feel dizzy immediately.
The dizziness may indicate a problem with your vestibular system. Inside your ears, you have nerves, canals and fluids that connect with your brain and help you keep your balance. But about 40 percent of people older than 40 have some kind of vestibular issue, so nearly half of adults watching 3-D movies can expect to feel some degree of dizziness, according to the Vestibular Disorders Association.
Romantic movies and comedies are similar in that they can both help you cope with outside issues. But though comedies have been proven to decrease stress hormones, lower your blood pressure and so on, romantic movies simply give you a few hours of relief from your life, Wolz said.
"Mistakes the characters make are portrayed in a humorous, uplifting and forgiving manner," she said. This may give you a different perspective on your problems.
Know before you go: One of Wolz's clients was overwhelmed with work, so she saw the