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Wyatt Moss-Wellington, Dooley Murphy, Robert Sinnerbrink, and Kirsten Moana Thompson

Martin P. Rossouw. Transformational Ethics of Film. Leiden: Brill, 2021, 316 pp., $150.00 (hardback), ISBN: 9789004459953.

Grant Tavinor. The Aesthetics of Virtual Reality. New York: Routledge, 2021, 163 pp., $160.00, ISBN: 9780367619251.

Rebecca A. Sheehan. American Avant-Garde Cinema's Philosophy of the In-Between. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020, 292 + xi pp., $41.95 (paperback), ISBN: 9780190949716.

Deborah Walker-Morrison. Classic French Noir: Gender and the Cinema of Fatal Desire. London: I.B. Tauris, 2019, 272 pp., $77.00, ISBN 9781350157446.

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Constructing Film Emotions

The Theory of Constructed Emotion as a Biocultural Framework for Cognitive Film Theory

Timothy Justus


In the classical view of emotion, the basic emotions (anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise) are assumed to be natural kinds that are perceiver-independent. Correspondingly, each is thought to possess a distinct neural and physiological signature, accompanied by an expression that is universally recognized despite differences in culture, era, and language. An alternative, the theory of constructed emotion, emphasizes that, while the underlying interoceptive sensations are biological, emotional concepts are learned, socially constructed categories, characterized by many-to-many relationships among diverse brain states, physiological signs, facial movements, and their emotional meanings. This biocultural view permits a greater degree of cultural-historical specificity when interpreting the emotions of others. In this article, I consider the implications of the theory of constructed emotion for cognitive film theory, especially regarding the interpretation of depicted facial expressions of emotion as one aspect of cinematic expression. Particular attention is given to recent work revisiting the Kuleshov effect, in which the meaning of a character's facial expression is thought to change in the context of a montage.

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Marc Hye-Knudsen


In 1964, near the height of Cold War nuclear anxiety, millions of Americans flocked to movie theatres to see their own nuclear annihilation hilariously enacted for them in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. How did Kubrick transform one of his time's most pressing causes of psychological distress into a source of humorous pleasure? To answer this question, I offer a cognitive account of how comic distance works on film, building on research indicating humor to be an evolved response to benign violations. I show that Kubrick consistently optimized for psychological distance in Dr. Strangelove, comparing his narrative and stylistic choices to those of Sidney Lumet in Fail Safe, a contemporaneous film that plays the same essential story for drama instead of laughs.

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James E. Cutting


Since Aristotle, tradition has it that stories are defined as unified wholes, divisible into smaller inter-related parts. In many narrative forms these parts are called scenes. Scenes, too, are regarded as wholes, typically unified on three grounds: a constancy of characters and location within a continuous time frame. Generally, if a storyteller changes one or more of these, the story has moved on to the next scene. But this rule is not universal. The most obvious exception in movies is the telephone call, which can change locations to accommodate images of the two conversing characters. Here, I explore a century's worth of popular, English-language movies to discern how two-sided telephone conversations (which violate spatial unity) are portrayed on the screen, and how they compare to face-to-face conversations (which do not violate spatial unity) in the same movies. The portrayal of both types of conversations has evolved, sometimes independently and sometimes in synchrony, and popular filmmaking has arrived circuitously at a system in which both are generally portrayed in the same way—two characters in alternating shots, slightly to opposite sides of the midline and turned towards one another. I discuss the social and psychological reasons why this might be the case.

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When Lamps Have Feelings

Empathy and Anthropomorphism Toward Inanimate Objects in Animated Films

Alyssa D. Edwards and Daniel M. Shafer


This article presents a study that investigated the phenomenon of empathic connection with non-human movie characters. Using an original, animated video as a stimulus to explore the relationship between anthropomorphism and empathy, the study found that characters with appendages significantly increased viewers’ empathy and use of anthropomorphic language when compared to a character without appendages. This was true regardless of the type of appendage or whether participants labeled the appendage using human anatomy terms. Additionally, participants’ use of anthropomorphic language was significantly linked to empathy. Thus, anthropomorphism and empathy are connected when viewing animated characters, but an explanation of all factors behind these processes is yet to be discovered.

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Maarten Coëgnarts, Jonathan Frome, Christopher Goetz, and Maureen Turim

Roger F. Cook. Postcinematic Vision: The Coevolution of Moving-Image Media and the Spectator. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020, 240 pp., $27.00 (paperback) ISBN: 9781517907679.

Federico Alvarez Igarzábal. Time and Space in Video Games: A Cognitive-Formalist Approach. Bielefeld: Transcript-Verlag, 2020, 220 pp., $45.00 (paperback), ISBN: 9783837647136.

Daniel Reynolds. Media in Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019, 224 pp., $38.95 (paperback), ISBN: 9780190872526.

Walley, Jonathan. Cinema Expanded. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020, 576 pp., $39.95 (paperback), ISBN: 9780190938642.

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Cranes, Drones and Eisenstein

A Neurohumanistic Approach to Audio/Visual Gestures

Anna Kolesnikov


In this article, a neurohumanistic, “third culture” approach to “gesture” is delineated. Grounded in an exegesis of Eisenstein's sensorimotor theory and extending to both contemporary and historical thinkers, a “constellation” of the notion of both visual and musical gestures is triangulated and operationalized into empirical research. An overlap between Eisenstein's model of audio/visual gestures and the contemporary frameworks of embodied simulation theory and embodied music cognition is revealed. Through artistic collaborations with a filmmaker and a film composer, custom-made, naturalistic video clips (filmed with a drone) and musical tracks were created using the film The Cranes Are Flying (Kalatozov 1957) as an aesthetic model. Empirical results demonstrate an increased sense of movement and involvement in the perception of both visual and musical “ascent.”

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Dramatic Irony

A Case Study in the Mutual Benefit of Combining Social Neuroscience with Film Theory

Cynthia Cabañas, Atsushi Senju, and Tim J. Smith


How do we understand the experiences of characters in a movie? Similar to real life, viewers attribute mental states to characters through a process known as Theory of Mind (ToM). Filmmakers commonly use Dramatic Irony, a narrative device where the audience knows something that at least one characters does not. From a social neuroscience perspective, understanding the cognitive mechanisms that underlie dramatic irony can provide a remarkable opportunity to study ToM in a more ecologically relevant context. While descriptive narrative theories of dramatic irony exist, these have never been studied in relation to contemporary social neuroscience. In this opinion piece, we aim to bring together these two traditionally isolated disciplines to propose a cross-disciplinary research roadmap for investigating the social neuroscience of dramatic irony in cinema.

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Enacting Moving Images

Film Theory and Experimental Science within a New Cognitive Media Theory

Joerg Fingerhut and Katrin Heimann


This article highlights ways to relate psychology, neuroscience, and film theory that are underrepresented in the current debate and that could contribute to a new cognitive media theory. First, we outline how neuroscientific approaches to moving images could be embedded in the embodied, enactive cognition framework and recent predictive processing theories of the brain. Within this framework, we understand filmic engagement as a specific way of worldmaking, which is co-constituted by formal elements such as framing, camerawork, and editing. Second, we address experimental progress. Here we weigh the promises and perils of neuroscientific studies by discussing the motor neuron account to camera movements as an example. Based on the limitations we identify, we advocate for a multi-method study of film experience that brings cognitive science into dialogue with philosophical accounts and qualitative in-depth explorations of subjective experience.

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Enactive Authorship

Second-Order Simulation of the Viewer Experience—A Neurocinematic Approach

Pia Tikka


The neurocinematic inquiry is extended in this article to the sparsely studied topic of the filmmaker (author) as an embodied agent. Departing from my concept of second-order authorship, and inspired by the second-person framework of intersubjectivity discussed by Michael Pauen and Vittorio Gallese, I propose a model in which the author simulates the viewer (experient) who further simulates the experience of the protagonist in the film. This chain of relations is described as enactive second-order simulation of the viewer experience. While the author does not have a direct key to influence the experient, there is a relation mediated by the protagonist's situatedness in the film's narrative context. I further trust the core assumption of the neurocinematic approach—namely, that film as a narrative medium provides a means to imitate contexts of life that condition the enactive simulation of both the author and the experient.