Watching Movies : The Frontal Cortex


The most notable of these “non-synchronous” regions is the prefrontal cortex, an area associated with logic, deliberative analysis, and self-awareness. (It carries a hefty computational burden.) Subsequent work by Malach and colleagues has found that, when we’re engaged in intense “sensorimotor processing” – and nothing is more intense than staring at a massive screen with Dolby surround sound – we actually inhibit these prefrontal areas. The scientists argue that such “inactivation” allows us to lose ourself in the movie.

What does this have to do with tricky cinematic narratives? I’d argue that the constant confusion makes it harder for us to dissolve into the spectacle on screen. We’re so busy trying to understand the plot that our prefrontal cortex can’t turn off. To repeat: this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does go against the fundamental experience of watching a movie. It’s a formal innovation that contradicts the essence of the form. We can’t afford to “lose ourselves” in the movie because we’re already lost.

Movies and brains are two of my favorite things in the world and I really believe in the cross sections of art and science and of course I am totally love with Jonah Lehrer. So you should read this fascinating blog post. The end.

I would imagine the same thing happens with novels, and most other absorptive activities. It’s probably also responsible for that curse wherein if you study the structures of discourses too much (i.e., English major), you can’t ever enjoy movies in the same way ever again.

Also: David Lynch. Also.

Watching Movies : The Frontal Cortex

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