Can't Buy Happiness?

Money, personality, and well-being

What Kind of Moviegoer Are You?

There is a wide array of decisions associated with seeing a movie.

This is a guest blog entry by Dr. Carson Sandy of  TipTap Lab. The research referenced was conducted by TipTap Lab as part of an ongoing research effort to use psychological trait data to predict behavior. Check out our infographic detailing the Psychology of Movie Tastes and Preferences.

There is a wide array of decisions associated with seeing a movie. Do you watch it at home or in the theater? Do you go on opening weekend or wait a few weeks until the crowd dies down? Who do you watch it with? Do you purchase tickets in advance online or at the box office? Do you choose to see a light-hearted comedy or a serious yet thought-provoking drama? These decisions affect our own personal experience as well as the profitability of movie production and promotion companies. Unfortunately predicting the success/failure of films has been a largely unsuccessful venture—making movie productions a risky investment. One recent breakthrough in predicting pre-release success was discovered by a group of researchers who used the web traffic on Wikipedia pages for upcoming movies to predict box office success. Another way to ensure the success of a film is to make sure that the marketing and sales teams are creating the right messaging (e.g., trailers, ads), and targeting the right customers. Typical variables used to understand the viewing audience (and thus how to advertise) include demographics (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity), geographic location, and other census related data.

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One relatively unexplored way of predicting movie consumption is through psychological traits. Believe it or not, people make decisions like the ones listed above in a relatively predictable way. Moviegoing behaviors, along with other everyday behaviors, can be predicted (with a relatively high degree of accuracy) by certain personality traits. For instance, individuals who are highly extraverted (or outgoing) are more likely to go to the movies with a group of people (rather than alone or with just one person). Extraverts enjoy putting themselves in group settings because it stimulates their motivation to socially engage with others.

Despite the enormous amount of money poured into the movie and entertainment business each year, a surprisingly small amount of research has been devoted to understanding the individual differences that drive people’s preferences when it comes to movies. In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality, researchers explored the structure and correlates of entertainment genres (e.g., comedy, drama, romance) across film, music, books, and television. They found 5 major dimensions of genres across all of these mediums: communal, aesthetic, dark, thrilling, cerebral.

Here at TipTap Lab, we conducted our own research on movie preference and personality as part of our ongoing effort to define and understand various consumer domains. Our aim was to discover how movie genre preferences vary as well as the behaviors associated with those preferences (e.g., venue, audience). We asked people a number of questions about their movie watching behavior, movie genre preferences, and other online behaviors. Additionally, we collected personality trait data. 

Three Types of Moviegoers

While there are many genres of film, we found three statistically distinct dimensions of moviegoer preference in our sample: The Freethinker, The Adrenaline Junkie, and The Optimist. The first dimension includes genres such as documentaries, foreign films, cult classics, and dramas. Adrenaline pumping films include those from the genres of science fiction, action, war, western, and horror. The optimistic dimension is composed of genres like kids’ movies, romance, musical, animation, and comedy. It is important to note these dimensions of movie preference are continuous. That is, a person could be low or high on any one of these moviegoer categories. For instance, a movie buff or movie critic might strongly favor all three categories.

After deriving these dimensions of preference, we correlated them with personality and demographic traits as well as other moviegoing behaviors. Some correlations may be unsurprising—for instance, younger viewers and males were more likely to enjoy adrenaline pumping movies. Some findings, however, were less obvious. For instance, people who prefer watching cognitively stimulating movies (The Freethinker) tended to be less conventional and more open to new experiences. They also tended to be more eco-conscious and were more likely shop locally. People who prefered watching adrenaline pumping films placed a high value on having fun in life. They also tended to be less concerned with worldly matters like universal peace and harmony. Fans of optimistic movies tended to have more conservative values. They were also more likely to be outgoing and friendly than those who prefered other genres of film.

Marketing Strategy

Because certain genres of film draw different crowds of people, significant consideration must be given to marketing communications and promotions. One of the primary missions at TipTap Lab is to understand how psychological motivations vary from context to context. This understanding allows for more targeted messaging, promoting, and other communication. And with more research these efforts can in turn increase the profitability of things like film releases as well as provide a more accurate forecast of how well a film will perform among certain groups.

At BeyondThePurchase.Org we want to know what you spend your money on. To learn about what might be influencing what you spend your money on, Login or Register with Beyond The Purchase, then take a few of our spending habits quizzes:

How materialistic are you? Find out by taking the Materialistic Values Scale.

Are you a compulsive buyer? Take the Compulsive Buying Scale and learn about your spending habits.

How hedonistic are you? Take the Hedonism Value Scale and learn if you chase pleasure to an unhealthy extreme.

With these insights, you can better understand the ways in which your financial decisions affect your happiness.

Ryan T. Howell, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at San Francisco State University.

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