Grey's Anatomy or Me Before You helps in coping with death

People actively engaging with death, for instance by reading about it, and then watching a film where that subject is central, learn to deal with death better. This is shown by research by Enny Das and Anneke de Graaf from Radboud University.

"It's quite strange that we enjoy watching films about death," explains professor of Persuasive Communication Enny Das. "Generally, people try to avoid death as much as possible, by not talking about it or thinking about it. But we willingly watch dramatic films where people die."


The researcher had respondents watch 'meaningful' – that is, scenes that move you – from series like House and Grey's Anatomy or the meaningful film Me Before You. One group was asked to think about death beforehand, while the other group was not. "We saw that the group who had been given the task to think about death beforehand, had learned more about death afterward than the other group." The first group had, among other things, a greater acceptance of death as part of life and was less inclined to avoid death.

Active fear 

Das: "The research shows that people do not automatically learn from meaningful films. You could say they prefer not to learn. Only when they feel the urgency, they learn from it." This can happen when people walk past a cemetery, or when they are asked to think about death, as in this research.

Respondents who watched non-meaningful films about death, or meaningful films about other forms of finiteness like the ending of a relationship, learned nothing about death.

Consequence-free practice 

Why do people learn from films about death? Das says it has to do with the power of storytelling: by experiencing a story through a protagonist, you can practice and reflect on themes without consequences. "Film is a perfect medium for learning about difficult, dangerous, or forbidden things. By empathizing with a protagonist, you can jump over canyons or harm people. The storyline in the film Me Before You, where (spoiler alert) a protagonist accepts that her loved one wants to die, teaches you as a viewer: death is still sad, but sometimes it's okay."

Literature reference

Das, E., & de Graaf, A. (2024). When meaningful movies invite fear transcendence: An extended terror management account of the function of death in movies. Communication Research. 

Contact information

For further information, please contact one of the researchers involved or team Science communication via +31 24 361 6000 or media [at] (media[at]ru[dot]nl).

Behaviour, Art & Culture, Media & Communication, Language