Neuro your movies!

On March 30, 2012

Making and marketing a film involves high costs and risks, so using neurofeedback that predicts how people react to movies can be used in order to refine the script, scenes, effects, and even to cast the right actors.

From Hasson et al. (2008)
Figure 1. Volunteers watched movies and TV episodes while their brain activity was recorded with fMRI.

While watching movies, people experience perceptual, cognitive and emotional processes that trigger their attention. Professor Uri Hasson  (Princeton University) coined the term Neurocinematics, as he was among the first that used an fMRI brain scanner in order to investigate how the brain responds to movies. In the article Neurocinematics: The Neuroscience of Film (2008, Uri Hasson, Ohad Landesman, Barbara Knappmeyer, Ignacio Vallines, Nava Rubin, and David J. Heeger, Projections 2(1): 1–26, doi: 10:3167/proj.2008.020102), they introduced a new method of inter-subject correlation (ISC) analysis that measures similarities in brain activity across viewers. Because all viewers were exposed to the same film, computing ISC on a region-by-region basis identifies brain regions in which the response time courses were similar across viewers. As the authors say, the ability to measure the effect of films on viewers’ brains with high spatial and temporal precisions can provide a new analytical paradigm for assessing and analyzing different aspects of films, film genres, and cinematic styles. For the study, they chose to use as stimuli the following movies:

  • two TV episodes of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
  • an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Bang! You’re Dead, 1961)
  • an episode of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000)

From Hasson et al. (2008)
Figure 2. Inter-subject correlation as a measure of the collective effectiveness of different films. Additional information about the effectiveness of different aspects of the film can be obtained by measuring the ISC separately for each of several brain regions. The ISC is plotted separately for visual.

From Hasson et al. (2008)
Figure 3. Inter-subject correlation for different films
Figure 3A. The ISC for four different films (Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Bang,! You’re Dead (green), Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (blue), Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm (red), and the unedited, one-shot segment-of-reality video filmed in Washington Square Park (orange)). The three images in each panel depict the ISC in typical slices through the brain at each of the three cardinal orientations. Figure 3B. The extent of ISC evoked by each movie segment as measured by the percentage of cortex that exhibited high ISC.

On the episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the researchers found about 65% of the frontal cortex (the part of the brain involved in attention and perception) was responding in the same way in all the viewers. Only 18% of the cortex showed a similar response when the participants watched the episode of the sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm. The authors claim that the level of correlation between people indicates how much control the director has over the audience’s experience while watching the film.

From Hasson et al. (2008)
Figure 4. Inter-subject correlation in brain activity to an example commercial film.
Figure 4A. Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) movie evoked similar responses across all viewers in about 45 percent of the cortex during movie watching. Figure 4B. The similarity in brain activity can be appreciated by inspecting the fMRI response time courses sampled from a representative brain area (fusiform face area) for all five viewers.

Neuromarketing companies already use fMRI in order to see how active are the different parts of a viewer’s brain during a screening. Below is an interesting example of a research from SimpleUsability (Guy Redwood – Founder) on Burlesque movie trailer, using an EEG Neuroheadset and an Eye Tracker.

If a person is watching a good horror movie, more activity in the amygdala – the part of the brain that responds to threats (and fears) is expected. Studies state that “engaged” brains will have high levels of activity in areas involved in processing sounds and images. Phil Carlsen (cofounder of MindSign Neuromarketing) states that scenes which inspire compassion will activate the insula. Another key area is the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (part of the brain thought to be involved in self-awareness), as this area is active when people connect with the video material (it is involved with linking what’s happening on the screen with your personal feelings). At MindSign Neuromarketing, they scanned volunteers’ brains while they watched scenes from the movie Avatar in 2D or 3D (3D scenes increased general brain activation compared with 2D).

Without any doubt, research in this area (on the way watching films affects the human mind) will be able to change the way movies are made.

Trackbacks & Pings

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

%d bloggers like this: