Bloopers are super – and here’s why

There's nothing funnier than people stuffing up on screen and seeing the funny side ...

By Shane Rogers, Edith Cowan University

Blooper reels are very popular, with some videos on YouTube racking up tens of millions of views. It’s a curious thing: why are videos of mistakes sometimes getting as much attention (or more!) as clips from the actual TV and movie productions?

From a psychological standpoint, the concept of ‘benign violation theory‘ can be applied to understand why bloopers are often found funny. This theory suggests that, for something to be found funny, it must violate some kind of norm or expectation while also being perceived as non-threatening or benign.

Bloopers fit this description perfectly. They are unexpected and violate the norm of a flawless performance, yet they are benign. Another take can be done, or the news show can move on to the next topic.

Here are three key reasons you might find bloopers so funny – and why they can be so good for you to watch.

1. Making mistakes is relatable

Bloopers can evoke a sense of schadenfreude, a German term meaning pleasure derived from another person’s misfortune. In the context of bloopers, this isn’t typically a malicious joy, but rather a light-hearted recognition of the shared human experience of making mistakes.

When viewers see actors or news presenters break character or mess up their lines, it’s a reminder they are fallible human beings just like you and me.

Bloopers can be particularly endearing when the response from the people involved is laughter or good-natured embarrassment, as it reflects a natural human response to error, showcasing their personalities.

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The strong reaction to bloopers by the actors making the error might sometimes feel exaggerated. However, when we consider the mental effort required in acting, it is perhaps not so surprising that breaking character can produce a strong reaction.

Sometimes blooper reels contain footage of actors deliberately trying to make their co-workers break character or laugh. This can show off a playfulness to their real personality, endearing in its own way. This can be particularly fun to watch when a person breaks character when they are supposed to be playing a serious role, or keep a straight face during comedy, or putting on a serious face for news delivery.

This can further make media figures more relatable as in many workplaces colleagues can engage in some joking around. For example, office workers having a laugh together during a dull online meeting.

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This aspect of bloopers is particularly interesting because it aligns with the concept of parasocial relationships, a term used in psychology to describe the kind of one-sided relationships we develop with media figures. Seeing actors in unguarded moments can enhance these parasocial bonds, making the figures more relatable and endearing.

2. Laughter is infectious, and good for you

Another reason it is no surprise the most popular blooper videos are where the people involved are laughing at themselves is we feel compelled to laugh along with them, which feels nice.

When we see other people laughing and having a good time, mirror neurons in our brain are activated, which are responsible for empathy and understanding others’ emotions. This neural mirroring can trigger a similar emotional response in us, leading to shared laughter.

This is why there is a long history of TV comedy shows including a canned laughter track in their production. Research has shown the use of such laughter tracks can influence the audience to find the show funnier. But observing real laughter, like in blooper reels, has a more powerful influence on us.

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When we laugh, this is associated with the release of chemicals in our brain (serotonin, dopamine and endorphins). These chemicals are part of the underlying physiological mechanisms that create the psychological experience of feeling good. This is why, from a physiological and psychological standpoint, experiencing laughter is a good form of stress relief and is good for your mental health.

Some research suggests even the simple act of hearing others laugh can relieve stress.

3. They demystify the magic of television

Television, film, and news programs require a lot of effort to produce the polished productions we enjoy watching.

For us not in the entertainment industry, it is somewhat mysterious how entertainment shows are produced.

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Many blooper reels include footage of equipment and people in the production team behind the scenes. This can provide some insights into how our favourite shows get made. Gaining knowledge of things we are curious about is an enjoyable experience and therefore is an additional pleasure people can gain from watching blooper reels.

A core part of television culture

In essence, blooper reels are popular because they can provide insights behind the curtain of television production, revealing the more authentic and human side of the people involved.

This glimpse into the real personalities enhances relatability and endears these figures to the audience.

Coupled with the inherent psychological benefits of laughter, it’s clear why bloopers hold a special place for many TV viewers.

Shane Rogers, Lecturer in Psychology, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.