Tears or Jeers: How Personality Types React to Emotion in Movies and Books

The stories told in movies and books offer us the chance to step out of our own lives, if only for a few hours, and live through the experiences, perspectives, and emotions of other people, characters who may or may not be like us. Many people believe that the mark of a good film or book is the ability to impact the audience emotionally.

The enormous success of the 1997 film Titanic, for instance, was largely a result of people’s desire for an emotionally epic story (especially the desire of teenage girls, whose hearts went on and on for that flick). But how many of the millions of viewers who watched it were focused not on the twists and turns of Rose and Jack’s heart-wrenching love story, but on the mechanics of the wrenching iron as the ship sank, or the authenticity of historical details, or the social commentary on turn-of-the-century classism – or some other aspect of the film that had nothing to do with emotion?

To understand how different personality types relate to emotions in creative works, we asked our readers to agree or disagree with the statement, “You react strongly to depictions of emotion in movies and books.”

A strong majority (73%) of respondents agreed overall, but the data provides a clear picture of which individual personality traits are the most involved in our reactions to emotional content in movies and books. Most notably, and probably unsurprisingly, the Feeling trait was the biggest factor, with Feeling personalities agreeing at 82%, versus Thinking personalities at just 62%. Identity also played a significant role, with 83% of Turbulent types agreeing, compared to only 65% of Assertive types.

Let’s explore these results in further detail below.

Roles

Diplomats (87% agreeing)

Empathy plays a significant role in how people react to their environment, and thanks to their core Feeling trait, Diplomats have no shortage of empathy. These personalities don’t just read a book or watch a movie, they experience the story and connect with the characters on a personal level. That, combined with their Intuitive trait, allows them to fully engage in an imagined world and put themselves into the character’s shoes.

This can make reading or watching movies an incredibly intense experience. You might not want to watch Where the Red Fern Grows with any Diplomat, unless you’re prepared to comfort them for hours, or even days, afterward. You may find them crying weeks later just remembering how traumatic that particular story was.

Advocates (INFJ) agreed with our statement more than any other personality type (89%), making them the most likely to tear up while turning the pages of Old Yeller. Advocates are passionate people who have a tendency to become extremely engaged with any topic or cause that they are involved in, and this intensity and emotional attachment spills over into how they experience their entertainment as well. They may have difficulty disengaging from the emotions that they are experiencing in a book or movie once they have committed themselves to it.

Sentinels and Explorers (69% and 67%)

Grounded as they are in reality – a factor of their Observant personality trait – neither Sentinels nor Explorers will react as strongly to emotional depictions in creative works as Diplomats do. However, the responses of Sentinels and Explorers tended to vary significantly within each Role, with personality types with the Feeling trait agreeing at much higher rates than those with the Thinking trait. 

Consuls (ESFJ) (77%) and Entertainers (ESFP) (76%), for example, firmly agreed with our statement. Consuls are very in tune with their own emotions and those of people around them, and their instinct is to act on those emotions by offering help. These personalities can certainly be very sensitive to any depiction of emotion in movies or books, but they’re also aware that, at the end of the day, it’s just a story; for them, work to be done in the real world takes priority.

Often artistic people, Entertainers have a natural appreciation for expressions of emotion. They thrive on situations that make them feel alive, and while they may sometimes seek out books and movies that do just that, many will be more interested in experiencing things firsthand, living in the present moment, and reacting to life spontaneously.

Virtuosos (ISTP) (50%) and Logisticians (ISTJ) (51%) agreed with our statement at the lowest rates of any personality types. Since these personalities tend to be less in touch with their own emotions, they’re simply less likely to react strongly to emotions in a creative work. 

Virtuosos and Logisticians focus on reason, facts, and the here-and-now. Placing less value on emotions, they may find them secondary (or even completely irrelevant) in a story or show. They might watch Days of Thunder and think, “Why waste a perfectly good racing movie on a stupid love story?” Don’t even get them started on the absurdities of the relationships in the Twilight books – there is absolutely no rationality there, and these Observant, Thinking personalities have better things to do than try to understand them.

Analysts (67%)

Of all the Roles, Analysts are the most focused on logic and the least concerned with emotion. So it might be surprising that these personality types agreed with our statement at the same overall rate as Explorers, and at slightly higher rates than the Thinking types among Explorers and Sentinels. That they did is a result of their core Intuitive trait, something they share in common with Diplomats.

Intuitive personalities like to imagine possibilities and find hidden meanings, and they can easily become wrapped up in that process, especially when they’ve been pulled into the world of a movie or book. And although emotions may be difficult for Analysts to deal with in real life, in a fictional context, they become much less risky, so Analysts may feel more comfortable attempting to respond to and understand emotions that they encounter in movies and books. 

Somewhat of an outlier among the Analysts, Commanders (ENTJ) agreed at a high rate of 74%. This makes sense for an imaginative personality type known for their charismatic and inspiring leadership abilities, because they understand the importance of finding a way to connect with others. It may sometimes be the case that, while this type does react strongly to depictions of emotions, they don’t necessarily enjoy it. Emotions are a confusing realm for most Analysts, and even those who are better at interpreting them don’t necessarily look for interactions that require them to engage in “feelings.”

Strategies

Social Engagement and Constant Improvement (84% and 81% agreeing)

The Turbulent Identity of Social Engagers and Constant Improvers creates the perfect storm for emotional reactions to just about any situation, including depictions of emotion in movies and books. Turbulent personalities are more sensitive to emotions, experiencing a wider range of them, on a deeper level, than their Assertive counterparts. Whether that is a positive or a negative thing really depends on how they respond to these emotions.

Social Engagers and Constant Improvers are no strangers to a sense of conflict – which actually puts them in an excellent position to identify with the internal or external conflicts that are central to movies and books, and to sympathize with the characters attempting to overcome them. Seeing some element of themselves in fictional characters, these personalities naturally respond to depictions of emotion.

Interestingly, Extraversion and Introversion had very little impact on our readers’ likelihood to agree with our statement – 76% of Extraverts agreed, compared to 74% of Introverts. Many Introverts may prefer to engage emotionally with a book or a movie as opposed to real-life individuals and situations. It’s easy to put a book down or turn a movie off when things are getting too intense, but that’s generally not an option in real life. Extraverted types, on the other hand, thrive on the stimulation that they receive from their external environment. The emotions of others, whether in person or in fiction, have the ability to influence these personalities quite profoundly, which may account for the fact that Social Engagers were slightly more likely to agree than Constant Improvers.

People Mastery (69%)

As confident and even-tempered personalities, Extraverted, Assertive People Masters are decidedly less prone to emotional reactions. Despite that, a strong majority agreed that they react strongly to emotional depictions in movies and books. People Masters value knowing what makes people tick, and a high level of emotional awareness plays a key role in helping them to tune in to those around them. Emotions play a huge part in social interaction, so even People Masters who may not value emotions understand their importance.

Confident Individualism (59%)

Introverted, Assertive Confident Individualists are stubbornly independent and extremely confident. Emotional engagement with others is not a priority for these personalities, as they prefer going solo over being social, and that extends to how they prefer to engage with the characters and conflicts in creative works. Resistant to stress and less prone to experiencing strong emotional reactions, they are less likely to get swept up in the emotional tumult of a character’s struggles or wring their hands in suspense until a dramatic conflict is resolved.

This is not to say that these personality types are a cold, heartless bunch – after all, there are Confident Individualists with the Feeling trait – simply that they’re less likely to get carried away with their emotions, which they may believe have a proper time and place for expression.

Conclusions

We all react differently to emotional circumstances in our lives. Our relative comfort with or distaste for emotion influences not just how we cope with our own lives, but also how we react when confronted with emotion in books, movies, and other creative and artistic works. 

For personality types with Feeling and Turbulent traits, the more emotionally impactful the story, the more meaningful it could be. For many, simply feeling their way through the experience of the story is satisfying enough. Thinking and Assertive types, on the other hand, have less interest in or use for creative works that are rooted in emotion. Many of these types may think that books and movies should be intellectually stimulating or practical and informative if they are to hold any real value for them.

Let’s not forget, though, that just because some personalities tend not to feel in some way emotionally compelled by a movie or book doesn’t mean that they don’t understand the emotional implications of the work, or appreciate how they relate to the audience or the larger meaning of the piece. It’s okay if some of us walk away from Titanic thinking more about set designs and production techniques than the love story, even as others walk away tear-stained, vowing, “I’ll never let go.” That we can each take our own meaning from creative works is just one reason why we love them so much.

What about you? Do you seek out books and movies that move you? Or are you indifferent to depictions of emotion? Let us know in the comments below.

Further Reading

“Frankly, My Dear…”: Personality Types Who Don’t Give a Damn about Old Movies

“We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes”: Horror Films and Personality Type

You can see the full set of data, including correlation coefficients, in the Academy. Please also consider participating in our Member Surveys!

3 weeks ago
I am an INTP-T and I have no sympathy for characters in a movie and little to none for those in books. I tend to laugh at their suffering (which I do realize is not normal). My Strategy is Constant Improvement; The T(umultous) and Constant Improvement factors in my personality indicate that I should at least have some basic empathy (or at least sympathy). Would there be a specific reason as to why I don't fit the reaction?
Heidi
3 weeks ago
I'm a campaigner and I ALWAYS cry at the end of movies! There's always something sad that happens near the end. Usually it gets fixed, though.
3 weeks ago
I usually don't watch fictional movies or series (I like reality shows and documentaries), but when I do watch them I highly value the production aspect. The camera work, the script, the acting, and all that stuff. Why they did it the way they did it? What reaction are they trying to get form the spectators? I love all this. When a scene hits me hard, instead of getting a strong emotional reaction from me I will usually clap a the TV because of how well that particular secene was made. INTJ-A
4 weeks ago
INFJ-T here, but I've never cried after watching a movie or reading a book. Although, yes, I do feel strongly especially if it's something I believe in, it's not enough to make me cry.
3 weeks ago
INTJ-A here, and I’m similar. I emotionally connect to books and movies that I enjoy, but it’s never enough to actually make me cry.
4 weeks ago
INFP-T. Yes, I do cry easily at emotional scenes in movies and tv shows. Less so in books for some reason. But if the scene seems forced or has plot holes, I resent being emotionally manipulated. Like the raft scene in Titanic. Ugh. THERE WAS ROOM FOR BOTH OF THEM. What made me laugh was that ENTJs (especially Turbulent ones) were more likely to respond to emotional scenes than other Analysts. In my writing the ENTJ-T villain, normally someone who prides himself on his logical mind, bawls while watching the raft scene in Titanic. Guess I typed him correctly. XD
3 weeks ago
I am sorry to say this, but it's not really about the space left on the door. It would have to be about its buoyancy, the door probably wouldn't have been able to hold both of their weights. Besides, Rose should have died as well due to hypothermia.
3 weeks ago
They were both rather thin people; even soaking wet Jack wouldn’t have added that much weight. The hypothermia is most likely true. I always wondered how someone who had just been in the water could survive in that cold air. Plus, if they had huddled together for warmth, that might have given them a survival advantage. I still roll my eyes at that movie.
3 weeks ago
Well, two thin to average weight people can still make a door sink. The weight of the door itself must be accounted for and what kind of wood it's made of of as well. Oak was commonly used on the Titanic and supposedly an oak door's weight would have been just enough for Rose's weight to stay afloat. However, a door made of pine - another commonly used type of wood - actually would have been able to keep them both afloat, but considering that James Cameron himself seem to be a neigh sayer towards the neigh sayers of this particular scene it could be possible that the door was just strong enough for Rose. I hope you didn't take offense to me pointing this out; I mean absolutely no harm with this! I just wanted to point something out that a lot of people don't seem to take into account concerning the ending of The Titanic.
2 weeks ago
It’s quite all right! Being an INFP-T I do become passionate in my arguments, but most of my close friends have been Analysts (mostly INTP and ENTP), and I’ve learned to argue and debate without letting it get to me. Most of the time. XD I wonder if the tv show Mythbusters tackled that scene...
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