Classic Disney films can improve chemotherapy patients’ emotional state, study finds

Classic Disney films can dramatically improve chemotherapy patients’ emotional state, a study has found. 

Scientists at the Medical University of Vienna showed female cancer patients eight Disney films with a happy ending, including Cinderella (1950) and Mary Poppins (1964), which featured “strong main characters” with “high moral values”.

The study monitored the patients’ “emotional and social functioning” from surveys they completed after watching the films during the course of six chemotherapy cycles.  

The patients felt less tense, irritable and worried compared with those in the control group who did not watch anything, the study found, with researchers estimating that the “emotional functioning score” of the Disney viewers was 86.9, versus 66.3 for those who went without.

The patients also felt less helpless as it lessened symptoms of fatigue, the researchers said.

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, suggests that watching Disney films during chemotherapy treatment is “associated with improved emotional functioning, social functioning, and fatigue status in patients with gynaecologic cancer.”

Lead author Dr Johannes Ott, from the University’s department of obstetrics and gynaecology, said older Disney films were chosen because they are “more likely to evoke memories of the past and have a slower storyline” than newer productions. 

The research excluded Disney films with sadder scenes, like Dumbo and Bambi.

Dr Ott said: “In movies, music not only enhances the emotion of what is shown on the screen, but also can create impressions and emotions that take the audience back in time to when they heard this music for the first time and so can help recall childhood memories.

He added: “In addition to providing distraction, it is interesting to note that Disney movies tell stories of surmounting difficulties without necessarily resolving them. They are more about accepting change than about heroically overcoming all odds. 

“There is drama and sadness and, eventually, things improve. However, the true victory of the characters is their personal growth.

“Frequently, characters mature and become adults.This transition is often painful and difficult, but when it is resolved, things get better.”

Previous studies have shown that more than 90 per cent of women undergoing treatment for gynaecological cancer agree that maintaining a positive attitude is crucial.

The sentiment was shared by Walt Disney who, in 1958, said that “the tonic effect of fun and play has long been recognised as an antidote to the stresses, worries, labours and responsibilities of our workaday life.”

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