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Movie viewers’ exhaled chemicals tell if scene is funny, scary

People may wear their emotions on their breath

9:00am, June 14, 2016
movie audience

BREATHTAKING  Researchers in Germany can predict whether a movie scene is funny or suspenseful from gases that audiences exhale into the theater air. 

Spoiler alert: Scientists can gauge a film’s emotional tenor from the gasps of its audience. Sure, the audible sounds are a cue, but so are the chemicals exhaled with each sigh and scream. These gases could point the way to a subtle form of human communication.

“There’s an invisible concerto going on,” says Jonathan Williams, an atmospheric chemist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany. “You hear the music and see the pictures, but you don’t realize there are chemical signals in the air.”

Williams started out measuring the air in a soccer stadium to see if human breath had a noticeable impact on the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The answer was no, at least on a small scale. But he noticed that levels of carbon dioxide and other gases fluctuated wildly whenever the crowd cheered. That got him wondering: Maybe humans’ emissions are influenced by emotions. So he went to the movies.

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