Watching Movies on Smartphones Increases Empathy for Film Characters

Last Updated on October 2, 2021 by Sean Donlevy

How is the experience of watching a movie on the mobile phone compared to watching it on a big screen in a movie theater? This has been investigated in an experiment, and the results are rather interesting.

The results point to the fact that the situations in which we watch a movie affect the understanding and feeling of presence – but also the viewer’s empathy for the film’s characters.

It is becoming more and more common to watch movies on their mobile phones as we carry them with us at all times, and can watch a movie when we are bored or waiting for something.

The special thing about movie experiences on smartphones is that smartphones have few social, temporal, or spatial limitations. What that means is that it is basically possible to watch a movie where and when you want, without being tied to either a specific room or time – like a cinema.

The experience of watching a movie on cinema vs on a smartphone was compared, and one major difference is of course that they have different disturbances from the outside. Generally speaking, watching a movie at the cinema will have few such, but watching a movie on a smartphone can have many. Depending on where you watch it.

Affected empathy for the film’s characters when watching movies on a smartphone

The experiment measured attention, narrative understanding, and the sense of presence through eye movement and skin response measurements (electrodermal activity), self-evaluation, and a narrative comprehension test. The results of this study showed that the viewing situation affected some of the variables: the understanding, the sense of presence, and empathy for the characters of the film. What did not affect was the screen size and external disturbances and distractions, and this can be attributed to the fact that the millennial generation is used to using their phone constantly. For the younger generation, it can be just as enjoyable watching a movie on a phone screen compared to a cinema.

Sound disturbed the feeling of presence

The experiment showed that users can compensate for the smart phone’s small screen through screen positioning and temporary adjustments for an uninterrupted viewing experience. But smartphone movie viewers are still susceptible to distractions, depending on the characteristics of the distractions.

Distracting sound or visual effects distances the viewer from the movie and interrupts the sense of presence.