Women prefer stories that seem to be true, while men enjoy fictionalised tear-jerkers where protagonists overcome challenges through sacrifice and bravery, a new study says.
The study, findings of which have been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, found there is a significant difference in the way men and women react to dramatic entertainment that elicits deep emotional reactions.
"Providing explicit information that the story is make-believe may have enabled low empathisers (males in this case) to relax emotion norms and become more involved in the story, in turn resulting in more favourable evaluations of the entertainment," says the study.
"The more empathetic a person is, the more she will be involved and immersed into the story and transported into the world of the narrative," adds the study, titled Fact or Fiction: An Investigation of Empathy Differences in Response to Emotional Melodramatic Entertainment.
The researchers found that men were less likely to endorse gender stereotypes - such as "men should not cry" - when they thought the story was fictitious, suggesting that they were temporarily discarding social norms and allowing themselves to enjoy the story.
"At a practical level our research findings speak to an increasingly popular trend in the entertainment industry wherein publishers and producers indicate at the outset of the story or programme its level of fictionality," the researchers write.
"Signalling the nature of the fictionality of a story or programme may be one possible way of targeting specific segments in audiences."