Once upon a time I studied to take the SAT. To that end, I took an SAT prep class and in said class they mentioned the importance of nutrition for studying. Because, they said, the brain becomes a major calorie-consuming organ when it is taxed with difficult tests.
Assuming this was true, I wondered if the same principal would correspond with emotional, as well as intellectual, engagement. And I saw an opportunity to run an experiment:
Jurassic Park was one of the movies that had a major impact on me as a kid and influenced my decision to go to film school. But I never had a chance to see it in the theater – until now. So I wore my BodyMedia armband during a showing of Jurassic Park 3D in order to record my calorie burn.
I had this great plan. I knew that this is a movie that has a major effect on me, which I hypothesized could also have an influence on my calorie burn at different parts of the movie. So the plan was that once I got back home I would take a look at the calorie graph, find any peaks and troughs, then go back through the movie on DVD and correlate my calorie burn to different events in the movie.
The result would be a sort of “heat map” of my level of captivation with movie magic.
The bottom line:
It turns out that if there’s one lesson I can learn from this experiment, it’s that in terms of calorie burn, sitting is sitting no matter how engaged you are in the movie!
I probably could have picked a better metric… I imagine that wearing a heart rate monitor would have revealed a graph with a bit more variability.
Also, in spite of being involved in the movie, I’ve also seen it a million times and there are no longer any surprises for me. It’s possible that surprises could have burned more calories, although heart rate is almost certainly a better way to go in the future.
It appears that the main factor affecting movie-watching calorie burn rate is whether or not you get up to go to the bathroom during the movie.
It also makes me want to wear the BodyMedia armband during the GRE or some other sedentary, high stakes testing situation to see about those brain calorie burn claims.