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Katrin Heimann

Our filmic body: Theoretical and experimental work on the embodied perception of film

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterResearchpeer-review

Embodied approaches to film have been mostly engaged in describing film perception as an interaction based on the crucial adaption of film to the perceptual and motor habits of the viewer. The conformance to basic perceptual expectations is a key factor in enabling the strong immersion of the viewer known from the movies. Recent research in cognitive neuroscience brought additional support for this: In an EEG study of 2014 Heimann et al. investigated the activation of the mirror neuron system during the perception of an action filmed while approaching the scene by different means of using the camera: still camera, zoom, dolly camera and steadicam. They observed that our motor cortex responds stronger to films whose presentation of the scene was judged as more natural and at the same time more giving the impression as the spectator himself would move towards the depicted: that is when filmed with a steadicam. Their result support an involvement of the body and its sensorimotor habits in film perception. However, the experiment did not allow to judge if such difference was triggered by an effect of familiarity to the vision presented only (that is a stronger response of the hand regions of the motor cortex, reacting to the in the movie depicted hand action), or if there might be an additional activation of regions necessary for gait (feet, postural muscles), indicating a simulation of the camera movement itself, possibly perceived as a movement of a fictional character in the movieplot.
In our paper we will present a follow up experiment (still unpublished), that did allow to support exactly the latter hypothesis: The mirror neuron system shows to be even activated if the room filmed by the camera is empty – as long as the camera is moving, and the more so it is moving in a more “natural way”. We will discuss the results of this study against the backdrop other ideas of embodied cognitive science (sensorimotor enactivism, extended and embedded mind) and introduce a more complex picture of film perception: Instead of focusing only on the adaption of film to existing perceptual habits we propose the appearance of a coupled system in which the film at the same time borrows and transforms the body of the perceiver. By exploiting certain existing perceptual habits film is likely to fundamentally carry spectators’ engagement with a movie. Variations to these habits, though, might get integrated over time into the repertoire of bodily engagements (see also Fingerhut, 2014) and in this sense allow the emergence of a “cinematic body”. We suggest a research program including precise experimental designs further exploring this in an interdisciplinary framework.
Original languageEnglish
Publication yearNov 2015
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015
EventExperimental Philosophy conference - Ruhr Universitaet Bochum, Bochum, Germany
Duration: 26 Nov 201528 Nov 2015


ConferenceExperimental Philosophy conference
LocationRuhr Universitaet Bochum

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