Melodrama and the psychology of tears

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)Researchpeer-review

Abstract

Melodramas are sometimes called "tearjerkers" because of their ability to make viewers cry, but there is currently no detailed account of how they succeed at this task. Psychological research suggests that crying occurs when people feel helpless in the face of intense emotion. The emotion felt most intensely when watching melodramas is sadness, and sadness has a structure and specific features that determine its intensity. I describe the ways the conventions of melodrama fulfill the criteria for intense sadness and perceived helplessness that underlie these films' ability to make viewers cry. I illustrate this model with a detailed analysis of Stella Dallas (1937).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-40
Number of pages18
JournalProjections: the journal for movies and mind
Volume8
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

Tears
Psychology
Melodrama
Viewer
Emotion
Dallas
Psychological Research

Keywords

  • crying
  • emotion
  • melodrama
  • narrative structure
  • sadness
  • Stella Dallas

Cite this

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Melodrama and the psychology of tears. / FROME, Jonathan.

In: Projections: the journal for movies and mind, Vol. 8, No. 1, 06.2014, p. 23-40.

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)Researchpeer-review

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AB - Melodramas are sometimes called "tearjerkers" because of their ability to make viewers cry, but there is currently no detailed account of how they succeed at this task. Psychological research suggests that crying occurs when people feel helpless in the face of intense emotion. The emotion felt most intensely when watching melodramas is sadness, and sadness has a structure and specific features that determine its intensity. I describe the ways the conventions of melodrama fulfill the criteria for intense sadness and perceived helplessness that underlie these films' ability to make viewers cry. I illustrate this model with a detailed analysis of Stella Dallas (1937).

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