Book Review of Brian Boyd, Joseph Carroll, and Jonathan Gottschall, eds. Evolution, Literature and Film: A Reader (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010)
Based on film examples and evolutionary psychology, this article discusses why viewers are fascinated not only with funny and pleasure-evoking films, but also with sad and disgust-evoking ones. This article argues that although the basic emotional mechanisms are made to avoid negative experiences and approach pleasant ones, a series of adaptations modify such mechanisms. Goal-setting in narratives implies that a certain amount of negative experiences are gratifying challenges, and comic mechanisms make it possible to deal with negative social emotions such as shame. Innate adaptations make negative events fascinating because of the clear survival value, as when children are fascinated by stories about loss of parental attachment. Furthermore, it seems that the interest in tragic stories ending in death is an innate adaptation to reaffirm social attachment by the shared ritual of sadness, often linked to acceptance of group living and a tribal identity.
The article analyzes how action films use different emotional sources of arousal to create narrative tension and suspense in the PECMA flow (i.e., the mental flow of perceptions that activate emotions, cognition, and action). It analyzes how different emotions link to each other or contrast each other in the narrative flow that one metaphorically might call an emotion symphony. The flow may create a time-out experience because of the way in which the action-oriented flow recruits consciousness in full, similar to the way in which music creates flow experiences, as discussed by cognitive music aestheticians. The article discusses how the flow supports character simulation and how it uses a small set of scenarios (HTTOFF scenarios) to drive the flow. To illustrate the symphonic flow, it makes a close reading of John McTiernan’s Die Hard (1988).
This article analyzes the psychological and neurological underpinnings of crime fiction and discusses the interrelation between cultural and biological-evolutionary determinants of fictions of detection. It argues that although crime fiction is a product of modern life conditions, it is also centrally fueled in the minds of viewers and readers by the mammalian dopamine seeking/wanting system developed for seeking out resources by foraging and hunting and important for focused mental and physical goal-directed activities. The article describes the way the working of the seeking system explains how crime fiction activates strong salience (in some respects similar to the effect of dopamine-drugs like cocaine, Ritalin, and amphetamine) and discusses the role of social intelligence in crime fiction. It further contrasts the unempathic classical detector fictions with two subtypes of crime fiction that blend seeking with other emotions: the hardboiled crime fiction that blends detection with action and hot emotions like anger and bonding, and the moral crime fiction that strongly evokes moral disgust and contempt, often in conjunction with detectors that perform hard to fake signals of moral commitment that make them role models for modern work ethics. The article is part of bio-cultural research that describes how biology and culture interact as argued in Grodal's Embodied Visions.