I love movies. I’m an addict. I think it’s my insatiable thirst for stories which hooks me. I’m not a fan of the blockbuster kind of movie that’s all special effects though. I like a movie which draws me in and absorbs me in the characters and the story. Of course, that fits with my other great addiction – books. I’m really never without a book and I’m often reading more than one book at a time.
I think movies are called movies, not just because they are “moving pictures” but because they can be so “moving” – they can stir our emotions so strongly. How do they do that? Well, here’s a slightly disturbing piece of research. Using the fMRI technique (the brain scan that shows which areas of the brain are active at any given moment) researchers observed which parts of the brain became active at particular moments in different movies and they used an interesting tool called “ISC” (Inter-subject Correlation) to see if different people had the same parts of the brain lighting up at the same moments. They picked a Hitchcock movie, “Bang! You’re Dead!”, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, an episode of “Curb your Enthusiasm”, and an unedited video clip of a concert. The results were very different -
- The Hitchcock episode evoked similar responses across all viewers in over 65 percent of the neocortex, indicating a high level of control on viewers’ minds;
- High ISC was also extensive (45 percent) for “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”;
- Lower ISC was recorded for “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (18 percent) and for the Washington Square Park, or unstructured reality, clip (less than 5 percent)
In other words, Hitchcock really was the master. His movie evoked the most similar responses in peoples’ brains.
“Our data suggest that achieving a tight control over viewers’ brains during a movie requires, in most cases, intentional construction of the film’s sequence through aesthetic means,” the researchers wrote. “The fact that Hitchcock was able to orchestrate the responses of so many different brain regions, turning them on and off at the same time across all viewers, may provide neuroscientific evidence for his notoriously famous ability to master and manipulate viewers’ minds. Hitchcock often liked to tell interviewers that for him ‘creation is based on an exact science of audience reactions.’ “
The researchers claim that these techniques pave the way for the development of “neurocinematic studies” – oh my!