Neurocinematic Testing: Will It Make You Scream?

Emotion-aware computing and the rise of Neuromarketing

Jaws, neurocinematic

I
t is always hard to predict the response of a massed audience, and almost impossible to objectively assess creative works.

In the present information boom and flourishing ‘attention economy’ era it is a necessity to pre-test emotionally provoking media messages and audiovisual products, and the existence of such tests will only increase in time.

It all becomes especially relevant due to the development of new multimedia technologies, with ever wider implementation of transmedia projects. Therefore, we need new methods for the pre-selection of the most promising ideas and clear, precise, objective methods for a convenient testing of media products.

It is well known that emotional and mental activities are the most important and closely inter-related attributes of human life. A mind manifests itself in motor skills, and body movements affect the mental state.

Neuromarketing studies

More and more neuromarketing companies brain test commercials and movie trailers for the major studios using fMRI, EEG, galvanic skin response, eye-tracking and other biometric approaches. These test data help advertising companies, cinema studios and film distributors to better market the movies and different goods.

Introducing a new method of filmmaking and feedback response called ‘neurocinema’. This is a process that studies a viewer’s sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective responses to film stimuli.

Two separate and largely unrelated disciplines are brought together here: cognitive neuroscience and film studies. The technique opens the way for a new interdisciplinary field of ‘neurocinematic’ studies where researchers use different technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure changes in activity of different in parts of the brain; electroencephalography (EEG) measuring activity in specific regional spectra of the brain response, and also sensors to measure changes in viewer’s physiological state (heart rate, respiratory rate, galvanic skin response)/ All this research and effort to learn, and substantiate with hard data rather than gut feeling, exactly what scenes excite or bore the human.

Researchers now imagine a future in which viewers are shown a pre-release rough cut whilst the producer or director peeks into their brains to see if their film is drawing out the desired response.

Author’s own investigations

My own studies on the subject included a new method for assessing the effect of a given film on viewers’ motional activity. The process involved the testing of emotional stimuli by observing changes in the biomechanics of locomotion. The relationship between emotional reactions and complex locomotion movements (running, walking, etc.) were studied. These were experiments with watching or listening to media products (videospot, action film, music, etc), carried out on running subjects, either watching movies in a ‘cardio-theatre’ (where, in addition to a standard workout treadmill a large TV screen or TV-projector was featured), or listening to audioplays or music through headphones.Illustration by Dan Booth, Neurocinematic

There were seen clear signs of correlation between emotional stimuli (caused by watching/listening of media products) with a diversion of amplitude, frequency, rhythm, and/or other characteristics of locomotion, which serves as an indicator of certain emotional reactions.

The most expressive indicator of an emotional state is a motor response. Locomotive movements such as running or walking, are cyclical and repetitive. Changes and abnormalities in them can be indicated relatively easy.

At a change of an emotional state ‘on the run’ the biomechanical manifestations of such changes become more noticeable and sometimes outstanding – a human in excited state literally begins to ‘draggle’, his legs totter. In a barely solvable situation a person in ‘impatience’ mode accelerates the cyclic movement. In confusing and painful circumstances, on the contrary, a human slows his or her steps down – feelings are so acute that even the motion ‘fades out’.

The abovementioned changes in movements can be easily monitored by observers or by the appropriate automatic motion tracking devices. It is possible to monitor the deviation of the amplitude, frequency, rhythm and/or other characteristics of locomotion in relation to the average movement characteristics of a given person. The results are, as you might expect, of no small value to the entertainment industry.

So what can we expect from the phenomenon?

To be continued.

Image by Dan Booth. Not to be reproduced without express prior permission.

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