Neuromovies and the conquest of the brain

You won’t probably hear too soon of an Oscar award winner giving thanks, apart from technicians, mothers and God to the neuromarketing team for its contribution in defining the character and the script so as to impress the most the public and the jury. However, more and more movie producers use neuromarketing research companies for studies on the movie’s impact at the neuronal level and most trailers go through a sort of a study and are often adjusted depending on this impact before being released.
The big movie studios of the world are known for rejecting producers whose movies did not pass the focus groups that have an important role in the editing process (certain scenes are cut out, reedited or even reshot depending on the said focus groups). However, when we watch a movie, we filter everything through our own perception and we process the information rather depending on the cultural parameters and through our own life experience. What we say afterward about the viewed scenes could be relevant opinions for their impact but most of the times they are completely unrelated to our primary reactions and to the neuronal motivation to watch that movie. Much of the data remains at the subconscious level, inaccessible to rational analysis, although it is the most important.
This is why, just like focus group-based studies for different products, studios need greatly accurate data because they also depend on the decision to finance or contribute to the creation of one movie or another. In order to better prepare their investment, studios want to know exactly at what moment, with what intensity and in what regions of the brains were the strongest neuronal answers of the viewers of the respective movie and changing the structure of the movie depending on these answers.
One of the best examples is the blockbuster Avatar. James Cameron stated for Variety magazine shortly after releasing the movie that “study with a functional MRI of the brain activity would show that several neurons are actively involved in processing a 3D movie than for the same movie, in 2D”. This is mostly due to the fact that the viewer is easier to immerse in a world that has the same spatial and temporal characteristics as the real world.
If the answers of the participants in the focus group raise issues related to the honesty or accuracy of expressing the impact that the respective sequences had on them, in the neuroimaging studies one can accurately determine at what moment of the trailer the viewer’s brain is stimulated and in what region. “Either you’ve stimulated the mind or you haven’t, so you aren’t going to have a situation where comments from someone at a test screening are based on someone trying to agree with the other people in their group”, says the representative of MindSign Neuromarketing in San Diego, Philip Carlsen, quoted by Neurogadget. In its studies, MindSign asks its participants to watch a movie connected to a device that measures the oxygen levels in the brain, an indicator of the neuronal activity in the respective area. Moreover, the neuronal reactions can be correlated with the exact moment of movie when they were triggered, helping the directors to manager the fear factor more efficiently, emotional moments and can change the movie so as to amplify and better use their value.
The companies involved in neurocinematics research come, most of the times, from neuromarketing departments and use the same set of tools and methodology – fMRI, EEG, Galvanic skin response, Eye-tracking glasses and other biometrical approaches. The phrase of neurocinematics was first used by Dr. Uri Hasson in his work Neurocinematics: the neuroscience of film 2008 which fundaments the theoretical grounds of this new field, starting from a quantitative study.
Hasson’s main purpose was to determine whether the individuals of a group have similar neuronal reactions to the video images showed and whether these reactions are synchronized at all the members of the group because the main interest of these studies is focused on what the reactions of various participants have in common. In order to determine the relevance of this data, his team carried out a study in 2004 on a group of 50 participants in order to measure comparatively the effects of the video images on the neuronal activity. They watched the first 30 minutes from the classic western movie of Sergio Leone, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The study showed that, despite small variations, most participants in the study not only showed similar neuronal reactions but with the eye tracking glasses one could also determine that their look was focused, most of the time, on the same areas on the screen. The most appropriate movies for these studies are thrillers, horror movies, fantasy or Science Fiction because they rely mostly on stimulating regions of the viewer’s brain. However, in the future, all movie production shall be tested through such methods with the main purpose to control more easily the attention and involvement of the viewers. Many of them are modified and adapted depending on the results of such a study.

A K Pradeep from NeuroFocus estimated, in an article on neurocinematics published by Fastcompany, that in the not very far future, movies will have a personalized evolution depending on the neuronal feedback in real time that they receive from the consumer. In other words, the neuroimaging equipments shall identify the reactions and expectations of the viewer with the evolution of the movie, selecting from several shooting versions the very scenes that stimulate most efficiently the brain of the respective individual. In this case, if we go to the cinema together, at the same time, we shall see different things, not according to one’s heart, but according to one’s brain. We will then ask questions about a movie just like we ask about works of art, about the role of the director and of the screenwriters but also about the more and more important role of the movie consumer, thus leading to a way of democratizing the movie production.

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