People are bad at recognizing liars. Data culled from several psychological experiments demonstrates that even the most well trained individuals – government agents, police officers, and so on – can barely succeed at a 50 percent rate. Lying and deception, however, are fundamental narrative elements in several film genres – particularly the detective film and the female gothic, genres that peaked in popularity in 1940s Hollywood. Considering their real-life lack of proficiency, how do viewers successfully spot deception in such films? Drawing on findings from a handful of experiments, this article brings cognitive psychological concepts to bear on two 1940s films: Out of the Past (1947) and Secret Beyond the Door (1948). The article claims that filmmakers, particularly actors, exaggerate, simplify, and emphasize deception cues to selectively achieve narrative clarification or revelation. This process reveals not only how viewers recognize deception, but how actors stylize real-life behavior in service of narrative and aesthetic priorities.
J. Brandon Colvin
Eric S. Rabkin
Frankenstein and Dracula represent two different genres in print but only one in film. The emergence of science fiction from the Gothic exemplifies normal public genre development. The translation of the written Frankenstein and Dracula into film exemplifies genre development as an adaptation both to historical moment and to medium. In both the print and film cases, we can see the same mechanisms by which a genre is not only established in the public sphere but in the mind of a reader or viewer, a dialectic process in which the genre forms and informs reading and viewing and potentially, as a genre, is reformed by reading and viewing. Consideration of cognitive mechanisms involved in verbal and visual cognition shows both the interaction and the typical dominance of the visual, although genre, and hence individual works, can be modified by increasing our focus on the verbal.
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