Are 3D Films More Psychologically Powerful Than 2D?

The Research Digest of The British Psychological Society reports that the revival of 3D movies in recent years has prompted much debate among fans and critics. Some say it’s gimmicky and too expensive. Others have heralded the return of the technology as the industry’s saviour. A key claim in favour of 3D technology is that it makes for a more realistic, immersive experience. But does it really?

Brendan Rooney and his colleagues at University College Dublin showed 8 different movie clips (ranging from 13 to 68 seconds in length) to 27 participants (13 males; average age 27). The gory clips were chosen deliberately for their disgusting content and were taken from Bugs 3D, Friday 13th, Jaws 3-D and Frankenstein.

Each participant watched the clips alone in a mini-cinema on campus featuring a 2.5m x 2.5m screen. Crucially, half the participants viewed the clips in 3D, the others in 2D. To ensure any effects of the 3D format were not due to novelty, all the participants watched an abridged version of Journey to the Centre of the Earth in 3D, at least 24 hours prior to the study proper.

Participants in the 3D condition reported finding the film clips more realistic. They also had a higher heart rate whilst watching the clips compared with participants in the 2D condition. However, there was no difference in amount of skin conductance (another measure of arousal) between the two groups, and no difference in how much they said they enjoyed the clips.

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