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Katrin Heimann

PhD, Assistant Professor

Katrin Heimann

Research Interest and Background 

Katrin Heimann is trained in philosophy and cognitive neuroscience and currently assistant professor at the Interacting Minds Center at Aarhus University where she combines physiological measurements and micro-phenomenology (a guided introspection method) to explore playfulness, aesthetic experiences (with a focus on audiovisual productions and film) and experiences of indifference and care.

On Micro-Phenomenology

Micro-phenomenology is an empirical interview method used to elicit fine-grained descriptions of lived experience, and is especially well-suited to capturing the temporal unfolding of mental processes (Petitmengin, 2006; Petitmengin & Bitbol, 2009). The micro-phenomenological interview process involves an interviewer guiding the interviewee to vividly re-evoke a past experience, and then describe it in careful detail, whilst letting go of preconceptions and expectations about the nature of experience. In other words, a form of phenomenological reduction is enacted, which aims to move closer to a precise description of the experience, rather than capturing ideas, interpretations and rationalisations about it.

A distinctive feature of the micro-phenomenological interview is that it provides a means of accessing not only readily available details of an experience but also previously unnoticed aspects of it, for instance because they were not in focal attention at the time or were rather subtle (Petitmengin, 2006). In phenomenological terminology, these aspects of experience are considered pre-reflective, or in more psychological terms, pre-conscious.

While the individual interviews serve to draw this very fine grained picture of unique subjective experience, a sophisticated analysis method afterwards allows the search for general structures of types of experiences.

This allows to ask questions unpreceded by contemporary empirical research.

I have been trained in MP by Claire Petitmengin and am currently acting as one of her assistants, helping in the further dissemination and refinement of the method. This reflects also that methodological questions about MP are one of my main research interest. In particular, I am eager exploring the scope of a mixed Method interaction of MP with other observational or physiological measurements.  I am happy to receive respective questions about the scope of the method or its suitability for specific research questions. I am also receiving applications for internships/theses related to this field.


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 adult behavior, 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 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 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)

2) a research cooperation with the Southafrican NGO Tree, exploring the use of MP in facilitating common reflections and discussions about playfulness and in catalysing the mindset changes needed to replace traditional paedagogical principles with the principles of playful learning.

3) a research cooperation with the Experience Team of IMS to explore how MP can inform their development of play tool boxes for developmental country contexts.

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 and -aesthetics : 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.


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)


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).

This 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!.

I am also currently extending my interest in visual art in general, and especially if Micro-Phenomenology might serve as dissemination purposes of Museums.


On Indifference and care


We are living in times confronting us with some great challenges - regarding the misery of humans themselves (as in the refugee crisis) as well as the planet as such (climate change). To achieve considerable improvement regarding both, the individual and the society have to change. I believe that this is only possible by strategies of exposure to the problems, to which science might contribute. I am currently developing two projects - one focusing on climate change, one on social injustice, to move my work in this direction. In particular, I am interested in exploring Micro-Phenomenology as a combined observation and intervention method in political activism.

The project on climate change, "Climateers", is developed together with Andreas Lloyd, anthropologist , community organizer, climate activist and co-founder of several innovative Danish civic engagement projects (Københavns Fødevarefællesskab, Samtalesaloner, Medborgerne and Klimapåmindelsen) and involves additional partners from visual anthropology. It thus combines political, scientific and artistic expertise to develop a culturally adjustable and flexibly scalable workshop format, that will help citizens to do their first steps as climate activists, or climateers. The open source webpage of the project will launch in autumn.

The project on social injustic is developed together with psychologist Deanne Bell from Nottingham University in London.

Both projects integrate Micro-Phenomenology as a tool to assess the subjective experience of the phenomena in focus to better understand the phenomenological status quo as well as to find leverage points for interventions serving a more sustainable future.

More info will be available soon.

Please contact me if you are interested in this.

Research areas

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  • PLAY - the design way

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in or organisation af a conference

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