Examining the Relationship between Story Structure and Audience Response

How Shared Brain Activity Varies over the Course of a Narrative

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Sara M. Grady Doctoral Candidate, Michigan State University, USA smgrady@msu.edu

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Ralf Schmälzle Associate Professor, Michigan State University, USA schmaelz@msu.edu

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Joshua Baldwin Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Georgia, USA joshua.baldwin@uga.edu

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Abstract

When audiences watch a movie, we can examine the similarities among their brain activity via inter-subject correlation (ISC) analysis. This study examines how the strength of ISC (how similarly brains respond) varies over the course of a Pixar short film: specifically comparing this across the exposition, rising action, climax/fall out, and resolution sections of the story. We focus on ISC in the mentalizing network, often linked to social-cognitive processes that are essential to narrative engagement. We find that ISC rises from exposition to the climax. Moreover, we explore this shared response across age groups, finding that ISC is present across age groups, albeit weak in younger children. This approach offers new insights into the brain basis of engagement and story structure.

Contributor Notes

Sara M. Grady is a doctoral candidate in Communication Science at Michigan State University. She specializes in Media Psychology, particularly on the cognitive and affective mechanisms by which narratives influence audiences; how entertainment contributes to user coping strategies; and the distal influences of these processes on social behavior among individuals and groups. ORCID: 0000-0002-5592-8944. Email: smgrady@msu.edu

Ralf Schmälzle is an associate professor at the Department of Communication, Michigan State University. He is interested in affective responses to mass communication, including the reception of movies, speeches, and health messages. ORCID: 0000-0002-0179-1364. Email: schmaelz@msu.edu

Joshua Baldwin is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Georgia. He focuses on the intersection between media and morality. Methodologically, he is interested in applying computational content analyses to quantify elicitors of moral responses in visual media content and connect objectively identified content variables to psychological and biological audience responses. ORCID: 0000-0003-3689-9161. Email: joshua.baldwin@uga.edu

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