In cartoon worlds, squiggly lines over characters are reserved for the exceptionally smelly. But, in reality, everyone deserves those little squiggles: each of us is constantly emitting a steady stream of gases and microbes, as well as smells. And those gases may be able to reveal more about us than what we last ate (and whether it agreed with us). Our gases may also divulge what we think about movies.
In a study involving 9,500 moviegoers, researchers found that the chemicals that audience members off-gas while viewing a film reproducibly vary depending on the type of scene they’re watching. Specifically, the researchers noted synchronized changes in the amounts of specific gases during funny and thrilling bits of movies. The finding, published in the journal Scientific Reports, provides a whiff of evidence that humans may use volatile chemicals as signals, the authors argue. While far more data would be needed to support such a speculation, the authors still note that audience emissions may be useful for evaluating whether movies are truly funny or thrilling.
For the study, researchers hooked up a proton transfer reaction mass spectrometer (PTR-MS) to the out-going air vents of a theater during 108 showings of 16 different films, including Buddy, The Hobbit, and Carrie. The PRT-MS measured 100 of the 872 volatile chemicals humans are known to emit, with a detection limit of sub-parts per billion.
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