The term ‘neurocinematics’, coined by Princeton psychology professor Uri Hasson, refers to the effects that movies have on the human brain. For his 2004 paper entitled Intersubject Synchronization of Cortical Activity During Natural Vision, Hasson found that the MRI brain scans of cinema-goers watching a clip of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly showed that they synched up not only the primary audio and visual cortexes, but also more specific brain regions such as the fusiform face area, the region responsible for facial recognition. A 2009 Japanese study also concluded that moviegoers tend to exhibit synchronized blinking patterns.
Hasson was recently invited to Hollywood as a panelist at a symposium for Academy filmmakers about the power the movies have over human thoughts and responses. Hasson revealed data he has collected over the years, most interestingly that films which make heavy use of conventional cinematic devices (jump cuts, certain camera angles, use of music to manipulate emotion) are the ones with higher likelihood of causing the synchronization effect in the audience’s brains. The bank robbery scenes in the film Dog Day Afternoon, for example, prompted similar reactions in almost 70 per cent of the viewer’s cortexes.
Even more interesting is that ‘off-the-cuff’ videos shown such as the improvisational Curb Your Enthusiasm and a low-fi reel of ‘real life’ in New York City’s Washington Square Park prompted synchronicity at only 20 and 5 per cent, respectively.
This knowledge is useful for filmmakers looking to create huge blockbusters as well as those looking to encourage abstract thinking patterns in their audiences. Says Hasson: “If you want people to think alike and be in synch, you could use this tool. If you want people to think differently, you could also use it.”