Neuroimaging research suggests that watching a movie synchronizes brain activity between observers. This is surprising in light of anecdotal reports that viewers construct their experience radically differently, consistent with contemporary cognitive media theory. This article empirically tests the degree of agreement in the appraisal of commercially produced major motion pictures. Ratings for more than two hundred carefully selected movies were solicited from a diverse pool of more than three thousand study participants. Doing so shows that intersubjective movie appraisal is strikingly low but significantly different from zero. The article also shows that these ratings correlate only weakly with the judgment of professional movie critics. Taken together, this study supports the notion that movies are an extremely rich, highly dimensional narrative stimulus with many degrees of freedom for viewers to construct their subjective experience in a highly idiosyncratic fashion.
Pascal Wallisch and Jake Alden Whritner
Gal Raz and Talma Hendler
This article reviews significant developments in affective neuroscience suggesting a refinement of the contemporary theoretical discourse on cinematic empathy. Accumulating evidence in the field points to a philogeneticontogenetic-neural boundary separating empathic processes driven by either cognitive or somato-visceral representations of others. Additional evidence suggests that these processes are linked with parasympathetically driven mitigation and proactive sympathetic arousal. It presents empirical findings from a functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) film viewing study, which are in line with this theoretical distinction. The findings are discussed in a proposed cinematographic framework of a general dichotomy between eso (inward-directed) and para (side by side with)—dramatic cinematic factors impinging on visceral representations of real-time occurrences or cognitive representations of another's mind, respectively. It demonstrates the significance of this dichotomy in elucidating the unsettling emotional experience elicited by Michael Haneke's Amour.
Gal Raz, Giancarlo Valente, Michele Svanera, Sergio Benini and András Bálint Kovács
This article provides evidence for the existence of a robust “brainprint” of cinematic shot-scales that generalizes across movies, genres, and viewers. We applied a machine-learning method on a dataset of 234 fMRI scans taken during the viewing of a movie excerpt. Based on a manual annotation of shot-scales in five movies, we generated a computational model that predicts time series of this feature. The model was then applied on fMRI data obtained from new participants who either watched excerpts from the movies or clips from new movies. The predicted shot-scale time series that were based on our model significantly correlated with the original annotation in all nine cases. The spatial structure of the model indicates that the empirical experience of cinematic close-ups correlates with the activation of the ventral visual stream, the centromedial amygdala, and components of the mentalization network, while the experience of long shots correlates with the activation of the dorsal visual pathway and the parahippocampus. The shot-scale brainprint is also in line with the notion that this feature is informed among other factors by perceived apparent distance. Based on related theoretical and empirical findings we suggest that the empirical experience of close and far shots implicates different mental models: concrete and contextualized perception dominated by recognition and visual and semantic memory on the one hand, and action-related processing supporting orientation and movement monitoring on the other.
Masculinity, Maturity, and the Movies in the 1920s
Peter W. Lee
This article uses details of the personal and professional life of American screen actor Jackie Coogan to examine the social transition from boyhood into manhood during the 1920s. As Hollywood’s first child superstar, Coogan was given a haircut to make visual his maturation from his famed persona as an orphaned waif into a leading man. The haircut was also linked to larger concerns about the so-called flaming youth of the Lost Generation; what was known as Americanism; and identity construction for both child and parental roles. Unfortunately for Coogan, fans refused to accept his makeover; his screen persona in public memory contributed to the decline of his career while concurrently protecting the Kid from a vilified mother.
As the subtitle of the journal indicates, the intersection of movies and mind is a key theme of our coverage. First up in this issue is Jeffrey Zacks’s wide-ranging discussion of how our brains process the sights and sounds of motion pictures. He gives us a précis of his new book, Flicker: Your Brain on Movies, which aims to introduce a wide audience to the psychology and neuroscience that underlie our experience of motion pictures. He discusses the ways viewers parse narratives and build models of story events, perceive shot changes,
respond emotionally to fictional situations, and recall filmic information, and he ends by speculating about the future of virtual entertainment. In some not-too-distant future, will movies jack directly into our central nervous system? The readership of Projections is a key constituency of the research that guides Zacks’s discussion. His contribution differs a little from our usual style. Because it derives from a book that he has aimed at a broad audience, the tone of the writing is a bit more informal than is the norm in scholarly venues. Our readers should find the discussion both lively and fascinating. I am grateful to Jeff for providing us with this overview of his work.
Asif A. Ghazanfar and Stephen V. Shepherd
Because the visual neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of monkeys are largely similar to ours, we explore the hypothesis that the same cinematographic techniques that create a visual scene for us likely create one for these close kin. Understanding how monkeys watch movies can illuminate how film exploits the capacities we share with our simian relatives, what capacities are specific to humans, and to what extent human culture exerts an influence on our filmic experience. The article finds that humans and monkeys share a basic capacity to process sensory events on the screen. Both can recognize moving objects and acting individuals, and both prefer looking at motion pictures of social behaviors over static images. It seems clear that some of the same things that make movies “work“ for human brains also work for the brains of our nonhuman relatives—excepting two critical features. First, humans appear to integrate sequential events over a much larger time frame than monkeys, giving us a greater attunement to the unfolding narrative. Moreover, humans appear to have special interest in the attention and intentional states of others seen on the screen. These states are shared through deictic cues such as observed gazing, reaching, and pointing. The article concludes that a major difference in how humans and monkeys see movies may be declarative in nature; it recognizes the possibility that movies exist as a means of sharing experience, a skill-set in which the human species has specialized and through which humans have reaped unprecedented rewards, including the art of film.