Positive effects of “meaningful” media experiences

happy girl

And now for some good news about media. Recent research shows that some media can help us want to be better people.

I’m a fan of superhero movies. I like to see explosions and good guys beating the bad guys. I like a good chase scene. And every now and then a good, scary movie hits the spot. These types of movies make me happy because they’re fun. Other research shows, however, that some media content can make us feel happy for very different reasons.

Before I explain, I invite you to watch this clip. You’ve likely seen this clip before, but it will help explain just what I’m talking about.

Did you watch it? Did it make you happy? Maybe your eyes welled up with happy tears? Researchers describe the feelings we get from watching clips like this as being touched, moved and inspired. Mary Beth Oliver, a brilliant researcher at Penn State University, is leading a line of research showing that some media helps us “search for and ponder life’s meanings, truths, and purposes.” Some movies are thought-provoking, make us want to be better people, help us see our potential, and lead us to appreciate the people in our lives.

For example, participants in a 2010 study pointed out that some movies taught them that life is ultimately fleeting, and that love, courage, and persistence are virtues to be cultivated. One study even found that these types of “meaningful” media experiences actually motivate people to strive to become a better person and to help others more.

I know on this blog that I often criticize media for the negative effects it can have on our kids. But you know that I’ve also criticized those who tell us that we need to throw out the TV and never allow our kids to have smartphones. Media isn’t inherently bad. It’s what we choose to do with it that makes all the difference.

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