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Have you ever heard the phrase “suspense is in the air?” For the first time, scientists are discovering that there is actually truth to this old saying. A new study conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz studied the air in various movie theaters as people watched different genres of movies, and determined that each movie had a characteristic chemical signature.

Scientists showed pre-evaluated scenes (professionals categorized them by genre) from a total of 16 movies, including those such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,  as well as other movies such as The Hunger Games. Both movies are quite different, and as a result, the patterns each left were quite unique.

 In this experiment, data was gathered by studying the air in movie theaters as different genres of films were played.

Image Source: Caiaimage/Sam Edwards

To gather this data, they installed sensors in the theaters, which took readings of the chemicals in the air every 30 seconds and fed them into a mass spectrometer. The spectrometer then analyzed the mass to charge ratio of the gathered particles to help evaluate their identity. So far, the studies have been able to differentiate between humorous and suspenseful scenes quite well from the results.

Jonathan Williams, group leader of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, described the results in the showing of one particular movie, The Hunger Games, in the following quote. “The chemical signature of The Hunger Games was very clear, even when we repeated the measurements with different audiences.” He continues to further describe how CO2 and isoprene levels were measured to be higher by the mass spectrometer in suspense scenes, where the heroine was in danger.

Isoprene is one of 800 typical compounds that humans exhale. From his work, Williams formed a hypothesis explaining the mass spectrometer readings. He thinks that as moviegoers tense up, they exhale faster, resulting in greater CO2 levels.

Of course, Williams has plenty of experience with these compounds, as he and his team spent time in the Amazon rainforest studying these compounds. His other experiments include studying air in a soccer stadium during a crowded match (unfortunately it didn’t work out for him, since the game ended!).

 The compounds in air have been studied before. Williams and his team also attempted to study air in a soccer field during a match, for instance.

Image Source: Paul Bradbury 

By studying human emissions, he hopes to benefit a variety of industries. For instance, advertising companies could benefit; they could now find out what strategies are more effective without conducting lengthy surveys. Other research companies could also gain, as they could assess the emotional state of a crowd without too much expenditure.

Currently, researchers are continuing the study by evaluating the reactions of moviegoers watching the blockbuster Star Wars. They hope that, in the future, their study can produce even more results that could prove beneficial for a variety of industries.

Feature Image Source: air by Krisztina Konczos

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