"Rom Com Brain" Might Be Messing Up Your Love Life

by Pamela J. Hobart
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Ever since television and movies have existed, psychologists and people in general have both speculated about and studied how these forms of entertainment might affect us. Recently, Gothamist heaped onto this tradition by coining the term "Rom Com Brain," a kind of movie-induced romantic delusion, based on an academic study about entertainment choices and personal beliefs about relationships. Try not to be too discouraged, though: the actual study doesn't prove that any such condition as "Rom Com Brain" exists, and you should look for the cause of your relationship problems elsewhere.

In their forthcoming study in Psychology of Popular Media Culture, researchers at the University of Michigan surveyed participants to figure out their entertainment habits and their basic beliefs about relationships. To make a long story short, the rom com and reality show watchers were pretty idealistic about finding a nearly perfect true love, while sitcom watchers held weaker beliefs in romantic love. They conclude that entertainment and pop cultural artifacts affect our beliefs (well, duh).

However, although it's provocative to consider that rom coms, reality shows, and sitcoms per se are actively reshaping viewers in this way, the causation could also be largely the other way around. Think about it: if you start with dysfunctional beliefs about relationships (like "soul mate" theory, and "happily ever after"), then you'll be more likely to enjoy entertainment that displays and indulges those beliefs. Romantic movies are for you!

On the other hand, if you have a more realistic and sophisticated view of relationships, then the neatness and ideal nature of rom coms is probably frustrating. You'll be more likely to enjoy romantic sitcoms, in which characters struggle with continuous problems and even multiple partners over time.

It's certainly possible that our choices in media end up shaping our beliefs and that hypothesis is worth examining, but our beliefs must shape our choices, too. Maybe you should try watching something that makes you slightly uncomfortable instead of happy. After all, one woman's dreamy romantic fairytale is another's nightmare, and vice versa. And if your relationships all suck and then fall apart, consider examining the common denominator of your own actions, instead of your Netflix history.