The therapeutic effects of narrative cinema through clarification: Reexamining catharsis
Media psychologists have found no empirical support for catharsis as emotional venting or purgation. However, the concept persists in the humanities and everyday use, particularly in beliefs about the presumed effects of catharsis on well-being. This study adjusts the conceptualization of catharsis to include a cognitive aspect, i.e., the clarification of emotion, and examines the health outcomes of the combination of exposure to drama and drama-induced self-reflection. An experiment (N = 152) was conducted to compare the therapeutic effects of cinematic and reading-based dramas. In a mediation analysis, improvements in general health and lowered levels of depression were found for cinematic drama exposure with self-reflection, compared to reading-based drama exposure with self-reflection; this relationship was mediated by identification and emotional self-efficacy. Our results provide preliminary evidence for the therapeutic benefits of cinematic human drama through an altered conception of catharsis. Implications for using media to facilitate emotional fitness and meaningful entertainment are discussed.