Cinematographic High-Contrast Lighting Can Facilitate Empathetic Affective Mimicry

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  • 1 University of Tartu alan.voodla@ut.ee
  • 2 Tallinn University elen.lotman@tlu.ee
  • 3 University of Tartu martin.kolnes@ut.ee
  • 4 University of Tartu richard.naar@ut.ee
  • 5 University of Tartu ander.uusberg@ut.ee
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Abstract

Do cinematographic lighting techniques affect film viewers’ empathic reactions? We investigated the effect of high- and low-contrast lighting on affective empathy toward depicted actors. Forty one participants watched short clips of professional actors expressing happiness, anger, and disgust, and rated the valence and intensity of their own and actors’ emotional states. Affective empathy was assessed through the extent of the facial mimicry of actors’ emotional expressions and quantified through electromyographic activation of expression-specific facial muscles. We managed to elicit facial mimicry for happiness and anger, but not for disgust. High-contrast lighting further amplified empathic mimicry for happy but not for angry expressions. High-contrast lighting also amplified subjective feelings elicited by angry and disgusted but not happy expressions. We conclude that high-contrast lighting can be an effective means for influencing film viewers’ empathic reactions through the low road to empathy, even as the overall impact of lighting also relies on the high road to empathy.

Contributor Notes

Alan Voodla is a PhD student at the University of Tartu. His work is about understanding affective phenomena within the predictive brain paradigm using conceptual and experimental approaches. He focuses on processes that give rise to metacognitive feelings (e.g., confidence, effort) and their role in goal-directed information-processing. Email: alan.voodla@ut.ee

Elen Lotman is a cinematographer who has shot numerous features, documentaries, and shorts. She has shot in Japan, Tibet, China, India, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Finnish Lapland, and the Russian Arctic. Her films have won awards and have been shown at the International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA), the Banff Mountain Film Festival (BANFF), and the Montreal World Film Festival. Her PhD research is about human perception and cinematography. She is a Member of the Board of the European Federation of Cinematographers (IMAGO) and teaches film arts at the Baltic Film and Media School, Tallinn University. Email: elen.lotman@tlu.ee

Martin Kolnes is a PhD Candidate at the University of Tartu in Estonia. His research focuses on the cognition-emotion interaction, especially on the question of how affective states modulate the scope of attention. He combines computerized cognitive tasks and psychophysiological methods, such as electroencephalography (EEG) and pupillometry, in order to gain insight into the relationship between emotion and attention. Email: martin.kolnes@ut.ee

Richard Naar is working on his PhD at the University of Tartu in Estonia under the supervision of senior researcher Andero Uusberg and professor Jüri Allik. He has coauthored several papers published by the lab of experimental psychology. In his doctoral thesis, he is investigating a few previously less explored ways in which the brain, and the visual system more specifically, reduce uncertainties about sensory inputs. Email: richard.naar@ut.ee

Andero Uusberg is a senior researcher at the University of Tartu in Estonia. He studies how affective states regulate the way people behave and how people in turn regulate their own and others’ affective states. He holds a PhD from the University of Tartu and has worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University. Email: andero.uusberg@ut.ee

Projections

The Journal for Movies and Mind

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