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Katrin Heimann

PhD, Associate Professor

Katrin Heimann

Research Interest and Background 

Katrin Heimann is trained in philosophy (M.A) and cognitive neuroscience (M.Sc and PhD) and currently working and teaching at the Interacting Minds Center at Aarhus University. Her methodological focus lies in methods to work with subjective experience, in particular micro-phenomenology (MP), used as a stand alone tool and in multi method settings. She is particularly passionate in using research to explore and co-create transformative learning experiences at the interface of science and the arts. 

In this vein, Katrin is considering and developing science as investigative intervention usable for sustainable development and explores possibilities of it in several art science collaboration. She is part of the Experimenting, Experiencing, Reflecting project (EER), an art science collaboration between the IMC and Studio Olafur Eliasson, as well as Principle Investigator within the Horizon 2020 grant project ARTIS (Art and Research on Transformation of Individuals and society), set to explore and co-create transformative art experiences from 2020-2024. Since January 2022 she is also working half time as a postdoc at the Max-Planck-Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany.


On Micro-Phenomenology

Micro-phenomenology is an empirical interview method developed to elicit fine-grained descriptions of lived experience, and is especially well-suited to capturing the temporal unfolding of such experiences (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 what was consciously lived it in careful detail, rather than capturing ideas, interpretations and rationalisations about it.

While the individual interviews serve to draw the very fine grained picture of unique subjective experience, a sophisticated analysis method, afterwards, allows to derive generic structures of types of experiences across particiants. This enabled to ask questions unpreceded by contemporary empirical research and combine it with more established methods.

Katrin has been trained in MP by Claire Petitmengin and is 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 hermain research interest. In particular, she is eager exploring the scope of a mixed method interaction of MP with other observational or physiological measurements. She is offering trainings in form of summerschools (BA level), phd courses and staff education and  happy to receive respective questions about the scope of the method or its suitability for specific research questions.

Currently she is responsible for data collection and training in MP in the ERC grant "Heart Openings: The experience and cultivation of love in buddhism, christianity and islam" under the lead of Christian Suhr at AU as well as the SSHRC Insigt Grant Team "Inhabiting altered worlds: sensory experiences following traumatic brain injuries" under the lead of Nicole Gombay at the University of Montréal.  

In the last years, she has been using the method also in collaborations with artists and museums to explore and disseminate subjective experiences of art works. Please see for a website created on the basis such interventions about the installation "Life" of Olafur Eliasson at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel: 




Some glimpses on former (and ongoing) projects:

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) was 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 focused on PLAYTrack and specifically a systematic exploration of "playfulness" as a cognitive state of mind. I was working on this via a variety of projects including


Research Project “Ducks in a box”exploring the "features of playfulness" via a lego building task with adults (singles – see publication - and pairs - upcoming) using a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures (micro-phenomenological interview, questionnaires, secondary RT-tasks, ECK, - 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.

4) research cooperations with several museums (Trapholt, Aarhus Kunsthal, Aarhus Kvindemuseet) exploring the importance of playfulness in museum and specifically art exhibition experiences and the role of curator/dissemination methods for that purpose

While the official time of PLAYTrack has run out, I am still very interested in the topic, especially in the call to make academia and art institutions more playful spaces. See here for a glimpse into this work: https://www.journalofplayinadulthood.org.uk/article/id/875/


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 further explore this field by  adding research about subjective experience of film to the field. This is also  due to the 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!.


Research areas

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