THURSDAY, July 29, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Everyone knows films can stir your soul, but a new study suggests your hormone levels may swing in reaction to everything from "chick flicks" to Mafia movies.
In men, testosterone levels increased after they watched scenes of violence, while a romantic film boosted a hormone in both sexes that's linked to relaxation and reproduction.
"We usually think of movies and cultural products that entertain us as engaging our mind and psyche," said study co-author Oliver C. Schultheiss, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. "The interesting thing is that it goes beyond that. Our whole body responds to these artfully crafted social stimulae. They work not just on your psyche, but also on your body."
Schultheiss and his colleagues tested the hormone levels of three groups of men and women before and after they watched romantic scenes from The Bridges of Madison County, a movie famously identified as a "chick flick" despite co-starring the ultimate tough guy, Clint Eastwood; scenes from The Godfather, Part II, in which a young Vito Corleone gained power and influence by killing a rival; and an innocuous nature documentary.
The findings will appear in an upcoming issue of Hormones and Behavior.
Levels of the hormones progesterone and testosterone remained stable after the nature documentary. Progesterone levels, however, rose in both men and women after watching the romantic movie.
The full role of progesterone in people isn't entirely clear, Schultheiss said, although it definitely contributes to reproduction. It seemed to decrease anxiety and libido, he said.
"It might play a role in affiliation motivation, how we bond with other people, how much satisfaction we draw out of close, satisfying relationships," he said.
Testosterone, of course, is linked to aggression. After watching the Godfather scenes, hormone levels increased 30 percent in the men who already had the highest testosterone levels before the tests. Those levels went down, however, after men watched Meryl Streep and Eastwood begin making a love connection in the Madison County movie.
Testosterone exists in women, too, although in much smaller amounts than in men. Their levels of the hormone tended to drop after watching Godfather II. However, "it's less clear what role testosterone plays in females with regard to motivations for dominance and power," Schultheiss said.
Dr. Ted Quigley, a reproductive endocrinologist at Scripps Memorial-La Jolla in California, cautioned that it's difficult to study hormone levels because they regularly change on a minute-to-minute basis. Even the stress of a needle prick in a blood test can make them spike, he said.
As for the effect of movies on testosterone and progesterone, he said it's well-known that "hormones affect emotions, and emotions affect hormones."
He added that "watching a 'chick flick' may have an effect on certain hormones, but it's the impact in the real world, in everyday living, that needs to be determined."
To learn more about what the body's many hormones do, check out the National Library of Medicine.