How Movies Can Change Our Behavior

This week’s blog is a little different. Ever since the first reports of Cornoavirus (COVID-19), I have seen a couple of articles (‘Outbreak’ Enters Netflix’s Top 10: Here Are 6 Quarantine-Ready Movies to Stream) about people watching the movie Contagion (2011).

Veterinary pathologist Tracey McNamara, who served as the film’s science advisor, said that the film was a cautionary tale.

“If people are watching it again, and if federal and state officials are watching it again, I hope they’re realising that the movie was really about what can happen with a novel pandemic threat, and I think people should have taken it much more seriously,” said McNamara. “I wish people had paid closer attention to it when the film came out, because it really was a warning to the federal government that this could happen and you need to prepare.

According to the article, (Coronavirus: People should have taken Contagion ‘much more seriously’, says film’s scientific advisor ) “McNamara’s job was to make the fictional disease in Contagion seem as realistic as possible, and she [McNamara] said the movie “really rang true” in terms of its depiction of how disease spreads and how long it takes to develop a vaccine.

This example of “art imitating life” is just another reminder to me of the power of entertainment. But, can a movie change its audience’s behavior?

The USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center Media Impact Project studied the affect the movie had on audiences. In their report, (Going Viral: Measuring the Impact of Contagion), the researchers found that people who watched the movie were: more knowledgable about viruses and how they mutate; more engaged in actions that could help them prepare for a viral pandemic, like preparing an emergency kit and talking to friends and family; and more committed to washing their hands frequently.

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