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Stressful Movies Affect Heartbeat and Blood Pressure

Update Date: May 16, 2014 01:46 PM EDT

Movies are not only entertaining and fun to watch, they can also be highly stressful. According to a new study, researchers found that stressful scenes can affect the viewer's heartbeat and blood pressure. Even though the changes are not enough to warrant medical attention, the researchers believe that the findings provide insight into the effects of emotions on physical health.

For this study, the team from the University College London (UCL), King's College London and Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospital observed 19 participants' heartbeats and blood pressure levels while they were watching an emotionally charged clip from the film, Vertical Limit. The researchers measured heartbeat by placing electrodes by the heart's ventricles, which allowed them to listen for any changes in the cardiac muscle. The team also recorded any changes in blood pressure levels and breathing pace.

They discovered that during these emotionally charged scenes, the participants' heartbeats were altered but only by a little. Blood pressure levels, on the other hand, increased significantly. The participants' breathing pace also sped up.

"Our findings help us to better understand the impact mental and emotional stress can have on the human heart," Dr. Ben Hanson from UCL Mechanical Engineering stated according to Medical Xpress. "This is the first time that the effects have been directly measured and although the results varied from person to person we consistently saw changes in the cardiac muscle. If someone already has a weakened heart, or if they experience a much more extreme stress, the effect could be much more destabilizing and dangerous."

In a second part of the study, the researchers instructed the patients to recreate the breathing patterns they exhibited during the film. The team wanted to see if breathing affected heartbeat and blood pressure without the emotional charge from the film. They found no link between breathing patterns and changes in heartbeat and blood pressure.

 "This is the first study where the direct effect of mental and emotional stress on the heart has been observed. It helps us understand the mechanisms involved. Our results are really very exciting," Dr. Hanson said.

The study, "Effect of Mental Challenge Induced by Movie Clips on Action Potential Duration in Normal Human Subjects Independent of Heart Rate," was published in the journal, Circulation, Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology.

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