Ever hear of “neurocinematics” – a term coined by Uri Hasson of Princeton University?
If not, it’s basically a method that has been employed by neuromarketers, using instruments that had been predominantly handled by scientists, that’s targeted towards filmmakers. Using tools such as biometric devices (to track eye movements and heart rate), EEG (to analyze brain waves), and fMRI (to record brain activity), neuromarketers can help filmmakers better understand their viewers’ reactions, whether to completed pieces, screenings, or trailers (the latest Harry Potter movie trailer employed neurocinematics).
“Under the assumption that mental states are tightly related to brain states” (a hypothesis that is widely accepted by most neuroscientists and many philosophers), Hasson and colleagues found that “some films can exert considerable control over brain activity and eye movements.”
Neuromarketers ensure the reliability of their findings using several techniques.
To provide a basis for measuring the viewers’ brain activity and to avoid measuring noise dissociated from the task at hand, neuromarketers assess the participant viewers while watching non-stimulating targets (e.g. a standard cross amidst gray background), which should elicit no response. Then, neuromarketers compare this response (or lack thereof) to that elicited from a clip. Some participants may even be asked to watch a clip up to three or four times for comparison purposes.
Because the response of one participant does not say a lot about a clip, neuromarketers use inter-subject correlation analysis (ISC) to ensure further reliability. They can “assess similarities in the spatiotemporal responses across viewers’ brains,” in which correlations can “extend far beyond the visual and auditory cortices” to other areas, such as the lateral sulcus (LS), the postcentral sulcus, and the cingulate gyrus.
In 2008, Uri Hasson and colleagues measured how viewers’ brains responded to different types of films, ranging from real-life scenarios, documentaries, and art films to Hollywood blockbusters. While Alfred Hitchcock’s big hit Bang! You’re Dead elicited the same response across all viewers in 65% of the frontal cortex, Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm elicited the same response in only 18%.
Hasson alleges that the ISC level indicates the extent of control a filmmaker has over his viewers’ experiences, whether intentionally or not, leaving Hitchcock consequently with more control than Larry David.
Hasson’s team also changed the order of scenes for different participants and assessed viewers’ reactions, finding that the more coherent the scene order, the higher the ISC in parts of the brain involved in extracting meaning. Changing the order of scenes can help filmmakers determine which sequence effectively promotes their viewers’ understanding.
Phil Carlsen and Devon Hubbard of MindSign in San Diego, CA. suggest that using neurocinematics can help filmmakers decide which actor will elicit more brain activity from viewers and consequently, give them a better shot in the box office. Not only that, but the method can also help them assign movie ratings, depending on how brain areas associated with disgust and approval respond.
Carlsen has also found, not surprisingly, that 3D scenes activate the brain more so than those of 2D, particularly when viewers used modern polarized glasses over the older blue and red ones.
Neurocinematics has the ability to change the film industry immensely. Whether a filmmaker wants near-complete control or just enough to ensure his message crosses over, he can use this method to make it happen. Even the U.S. Advertising Research Foundation is seriously considering this new method, defining regulatory standards and a quality consult, says Ron Wright of Sands Research.
While some may disagree over whether neurocinematics is killing creativity or invading human interest or personal privacy, others might find it revolutionary, providing filmmakers with more opportunities to create their ideal pieces, and viewers with more engaging, worthwhile films.
Wright, along with neuromarketing consultant Roger Dooley, would likely argue that the method is far from invading human interest or privacy. Wright believes there are too many variables in determining the human mental “buy button,” which would hypothetically lead someone to spend money – in this case on a film. Dooley does not believe that neuromarketers will “ever find some sort of magic spot that will allow [them] to accurately predict whether someone will purchase a product or not.”
Neurocinematics, agreeable or not, is becoming an important element in the blending of the arts and sciences.
Blending with dozens of other fields and creating amazing products and methods out of doing so, neuroscience, in my opinion, has driven down quite the revolutionary road.
Sources & Additional interesting, related sites:
Songs in the key of EEG – Michael Brooks, NewScientist
Neurocinema – film producer Peter Katz, YouTube
MindSign Neuromarketing — MindSign
Science of the Movies – MindSign Neuromarketing – Nar Williams, YouTube
DOI: 10.3167/proj.2008.020102) – Hasson, et al., Projections
Brain scans gauge horror flick fear factor – Grace Wong, CNN