Brain on Screen

When we go to the cinema, we partake in a complex experience. How does a series of two-dimensional images and sounds blend into an immersive, sometimes lifelike narrative experience? And how do different individuals in the movie theater become one audience?

To answer these questions, we collected peripheral physiological, infrared video and 4-channel EEG data of 55 participants watching four movies on four successive weeks, in collaboration with the German Film Institute in Frankfurt (see Figure 1). We expect bodily signals, such as the heartbeat rhythm, skin conductance and respiratory rhythms to be modulated by the cinematic chain of narrative events, at low level (shot) or at high level (narrative arches, analysis in collaboration with the Köln International Film School). Bodily signals are a window into first-person perception through the arousal state of an individual, which in a dark movie theater is predominantly governed by the complex audiovisual stimulus on the silver screen.  We hypothesize that bodily signals tend to synchronize across participants at specifically salient narrative points or as a cumulative effect throughout the movie. Interpersonal synchrony at slow or very slow frequencies, such as those contained in the heartbeat modulation rhythms, if proven, would be the very definition of an audience behaving as one.