What science tells us about character connections
Here at Latitude we have been thinking a lot about characters – in films, TV series, and games – namely, which characters people connect with best and why. We wonder how these connections form and think that a better understanding of this relationship might allow us to allow us to help clients optimize content production down the road. So, we did some research.
Albert Michotte, a Belgian psychologist, suspected in the 1950s that empathy was the key to the emotional connection between spectators and the characters in a film. Thirty years later, his suspicion was confirmed with the discovery of mirror neurons, a group of neurons in the frontal lobes of the brain. While ordinary command motor neurons will fire when you perform an action, mirror neurons will also fire when you look at someone else doing an action. In other words, they permit a virtual reality simulation of another person and allow us to feel more connected to those around us – or to those in front of us onscreen.
Because our mirror neurons actually emulate the movements and expressions of characters onscreen, they allow us to empathize – cognitively, emotionally, and physically – in a deep and impactful way. This helps explain the very real-feeling connections that we form to our favorite characters, and why we are so affected by the shows and movies that we watch. With Lumière, our video feedback platform, we’ve taken advantage of this in-the-moment reactivity with a tool that allows viewers to leave feedback on video content as they watch — and allows us to better curate and evaluate streaming stories.
The non-scientific evidence for the empathetic power of mirror neurons is widespread. Questions like, “Am I the only one who gets so attached to TV shows and their characters” pop up on forums like Quora repeatedly, generating plenty of emotion-laden responses alluding to feelings of emptiness and despair at the end of treasured series. If not on Quora, then one can find examples of attachment galore on show-specific subreddits. Game of Thrones, for example, has subreddits for super fans of certain characters, in which declarations of real love and dedication abound.
Through science, we have exposed the core of our emotional attachment to the fictional beings we encounter onscreen. Critically, the mirror neurons that allow us to empathize with our friends and family in real life, also open up our hearts and minds to connections with show and movie characters. So – to the Quora users wondering if your deep affection for TV shows and characters is misplaced – it’s not, it’s just your fundamental human nature showing through.