Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How Movies Help People to Remember History and Misinform Viewers at the Same Time

Hollywood helps teach history well by promoting retention of events depicted in movies based on historical stories. Unfortunately, the viewers retain more of the fiction than the fact. Yes, it's true, these conclusions were based on studies done by psychologist Andrew Butler and his group at Washington University in St. Louis.

Two experiments were conducted involving 108 students. The students were grouped and made to watch nine different movies. Along with each movie, the students were also given text to read about the real history behind the story of the movie. Before watching, the participants were warned that the movies can be inaccurate regarding historical facts.

The results of the experiment revealed that when the movie was a faithful depiction of historical facts, the students remembered 50% of the facts even a week later. On the other hand, when the film did not match the factual historical details of the text, the students remembered most of the false events depicted in the film instead of what's written in the text. Some students were also adamant about their claims to having remembered what's historical rather than fictional and that the information also came from the text instead of the movie (which was mostly incorrect).

The researchers note that the early warning about the inaccuracies of the films may have contributed to retention of historical facts relating to the text, while forgetting about the warning a week or so later may have contributed to the students' remembering the misinformation n the movies. The study is interesting and shows us that movies do really help people remember historical events as if they watched it happen in front of their eyes. The problem lies in how accurate the events are depicted in the movies.

One issue that best illustrates this is the argument posed by people concerned about the movies The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, which were based on fictional novels by Dan Brown (refer to video below). There were those who argued that those films may lead people to believe that the things depicted in the movies actually happened in history.

Hint to history teachers: have students dramatize historical events in front of the class, and they'll likely remember what needs to be remembered. Otherwise, use documentary films or slide shows to support classroom discussions. Tangible collectible movie objects based on the that are historical in their presentation can also help.

What's historical and what's fictional in the movie 300 may not be important as long as it's good entertainment both as a film and as a graphic novel. Get this 300 book by graphic novel genius Frank Miller and Lynn Varley. Click here or on the image to purchase.