Katrin Heimann


Katrin Heimann

Research Interest and Background


On PLAYTrack: Cognitive Science on Play and Playfulness

Recent years have radically changed (at least western) society´s views on play and playfulness. Rather than as the mere antithesis of work, play has now by many been accepted as the sort of creative and relaxing, progressive and ritualistic, freeing and binding activity that enables us to be “energetic, imaginative and confident in the face of an unpredictable, contestive, emergent world” (Kane, 2004, p. 63). However, what it means in cognitive terms to be playful is still absolutely underexplored. Financed by the LEGO Foundation, PLAYtrack (see also own Webpage) is a five years Research Project of the Interacting Minds Centre dedicated to enhance our knowledge on this topic. 

From 2017, a large part of my research activity will focus on PLAYTrack and specifically a systematic exploration of "playfulness" as a cognitive state of mind. Currently, I am working on this mainly via three projects:

1) the creation of "PLAYCE" - an interactive datbase about play and playfulness research (realized via Python in interconnection with Mendeley) , with a graphical interface  enabling easy overview and access to a steadily growing range of play and playfulness research also to a non accademic audience.

2) the research-project "Ducks in a box" - exploring the "features of playfulness" in adults via a range of quantitative and qualitative measures (interview, questionnaires, secondary RT-tasks, ECK, GSR - more in planning)

3) a research cooperation with the Southafrican NGO TREE about changes in concepts and experiences of playfulness in pre-school educators using microphenomenological interviews. 

For all of these studies and more ventures of PLAYTrack we are looking for cooperations with other researchers and interested scholars. We are also open for students interested in a traineeship.  


On Neurocinematics: Brain and Cognitive Studies of Moving Images

We are living in a technologically fast advancing world offering for purposes as science and knowledge transfer but also advertisement and amusement strongly immersive environments such as virtual reality. Nevertheless, film, even in the non 3-D version - has seemingly not lost its attractiveness.

One reason for this lasting value might be that film has developed a refined repertoire of ways to create

a)    strong immersion (we can live other lives and realities, deeply engaging with these worlds cognitively as well as emotionally) while at the same time allowing

b)   a distanced stance towards these new perspectives, granting reflection and learning.

Both effects in their combination and integration are likely to contribute to film’s reach out to our lives “off-screen”: films can change our opinions, beliefs, possibly even our perceptual habits (see below), and by all of that will have an effect on our actions in world, making it an obvious need to study film.


Obviously, this all is depending on the skilled usage of films specific narrative means such as camera, montage, special effects and more – which over the last decades have been multiplied and refined by countless technological and creative innovations. Luckily, film theory has tried to catch up with these innovations, offering a large amount of works on “film language”, in which the single elements (such as different camera and montage techniques etc.) are often described explicitly with respect to their different effects on spectators’ engagement with the movie.


This represents a particular attractiveness for neuroscience raising the hope that – by exploring the neural correlates of the single elements of film language – it might be possible to on the one hand learn more about film or spectator’s experiences of film (by learning about their causes in neural and physiological processes and having more sensitive measures to detect changes), on the other hand of the brain (by getting to know the correlates of specific neural markers in spectators experience, thus getting closer to the role of those neural markers (possibly also involved in other processes) for behavior and experience ).


This hypothesis got my research started.


Previous studies


In my PhD, I conducted 3 studies looking for distinct neural correlates of different camera uses (zoom, dolly and steadicam) and editing techniques (cuts across the line versus continuity edits). Results reveal significant differences that indeed support some hypotheses of film theory with regard to these stimuli:

-       Camera movements that are judged as producing pictures more similar to those humans see during own bodily movement are correlated to a stronger activation of the human motor cortex during activation, possibly indicating a simulative “embodiment” of the camera(man) by the spectator

-       Edits that are judged as more realistically representing a scene (continuity edits) are correlated to neural markers (ERP components) indicating remapping processes possibly making up for the structural violation detected when the cut appears. Cuts across the line on the other hand elicit components known from change blindness experiments as those only appearing when a change is detected. Furthermore motor cortex activations during action observation across continuity edits show regular hemispheric biases (reflecting the hand with which the observed action is executed) while motor cortex activations across cuts across the line do not show this bias but an equal activations of both hemispheres possibly reflecting the spatial orientation problem caused by the left and right reversing cut across the line.


Taken together these studies support that different uses of narrative devices of film (camera and montage) cause different experiences in spectators, and especially changes their mode of engagement with the movie (being either rather emerged or in a distance stance towards the movie)


Future research


In my future research I would like to


a) further explore this field by

-       conducting a number of control and new experiments similarly looking for neural markers of different film language elements (including also camera angles etc.)

-       adding physiological techniques (heart beat, skin conductance, FACS) and eyetracking to better assess the whole body state of subjects. 

-       adding behavioral measures (for example from body illusion experiments see work of Andrea Serrino) and interviewing techniques (micro phenomenological interviews, trained by Claire Petitmengin) to better assess subjective experiences of subjects

-       conducting a number of experiments exploring the malleability of the markers as well as experiences due to expertise and training (in cooperation with Joerg Fingerhut, Berlin)


The latter point is due to my intuition, that film did not only adapt to some of our perceptual habits, but is also able to shape perception and elicit the creation of new perceptual habits.

Such habits might then be available for us not only during film watching (having an influence on what we actually find familiar and therefore do oversee) but also “offscreen” – influencing the way be conceptualize, imagine or even dream things. Neural markers might give us an opportunity to explore these hypotheses in addition to subjective reports!.

 For all of these studies, I am in need to work with other researcher but especially (future- as well as experienced) filmmakers to a) learn about the process of filmmaking due to own experience, but more even informed professional reports, b) produce material testing new hypothesis. I am also always open for students wanting to do a traineeship. I am happy if anybody interested would like to contact me.


See also: https://au.academia.edu/KatrinHeimann

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