Most of us acknowledge that there is a certain odor inside of movie theaters. Most of us think they smell like popcorn and wet shoes, but there is actually something else there that the human nose can't smell. According to researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, audiences exhale chemicals into the air that can be tested to see if the movie was funny or exciting.
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The team measured this by attaching a mass spectrometer to a movie theater's air duct and measuring the chemicals in the air every 30 seconds, kind of like a big breathalyzer would do. The collected information from 108 screens (which totaled around 95,000 people). Some of the movies tested included The Hunger Games 2, Carrie, The Hobbit, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
When seeing movies, we exhale carbon dioxide and isoprene at the most exciting parts of the movies. The researchers were able to determine that there is a difference in the concentration of chemicals between the funny and suspenseful scenes. While they still don't know why we produce them chemicals more often during thrilling parts of a film, they suspect it is because we tend to breath more quickly when we are tense or excited, according to Nature.
Filmmakers hope to use this same technique to monitor audience member's breath to gauge whether or not their movies will get good reviews. It could also send them back to the editing process if things don't look good.
Scientifically, the team hopes that their study will help provide data for future research about the processes of human respiration and metabolism.
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For now, they are going to keep assessing data collections that they've received, including data collected from viewers during the most recent Star Wars screenings.