Staggering Scenes: The Fine Art of Neurocinematic Studies

On the treadmill, no-one can hide. New techniques of pre-testing audience response

cinema seats by pixabay and Mezenmir 1024

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. In a continuation of his research into Neurocinematic studies, Radik Kagirov explains how the observation of motor response in exercising subjects can be used in the development of more psychologically-affecting motion pictures.


The aforementioned changes in movements can be easily fixed 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 tester.

When testing the media products, it is sufficient to compare the time of change of human locomotive characteristics with the time of certain prearranged emotional ‘signals’ – i.e. key scenes of an audiovisual work (media product).

For example, a tester runs on a treadmill and watches a movie, or listens to an audio-play through headphones. If on the 37th minute of the dramatic work the authors conceived an emotionally exciting scene, and if during the test at this time period an obvious deviation from the rhythm of running happens, it means that ‘an emotional response’ is manifested – the scene was done more or less successfully and the authors’ idea ‘plays’.

On the contrary, if at the fragment of the film where it is assumed a strong emotional reaction will take place, the tester moves at their usual pace with almost no visible change – then the scene does not ‘play’, it does not cause strong emotions and needs to be corrected somehow.

Currently, there are different ways to analyze the viewer’s perceptions of media products. On pre-screenings (for example, demonstrating to viewers a preliminary version of a film) the analysis is mainly based on oral or written interviews with people in focus groups. Less commonly ECG and EEG parameters are used, as well as complex neurological research using MRI scans, etc.

As the traditional methods of testing media products are based on registration of physiological parameters (EEG, ECG, MRI), it is more complicated to detect changes in conditions of testers, as they usually sit quietly or even lie down. They are physically motionless and are in a stable, relatively comfortable position. In such circumstances, emotionally caused motor-muscular reactions (and even other physiological parameters) of their bodies are rather limited and not very noticeable. Whilst walking and running though, a person is in an unstable equilibrium, and makes repetitive, but biomechanically quite complex, coordinated movements.Neuromarketing studies

Furthermore, under intensive physical exercise the body’s metabolism is accelerated and the release of hormones is increased, all of which may cause further enhancement of emotional reactions to the media-product.

Currently, attempts to test movies by MRI scanners record an increased activity in certain brain regions. But in this way it is possible to test short cinema fragments only. To test a two hour feature film by this method is not possible. With the help of abovementioned biomechanical testing though, we can easily test a two-hour movie (as long as the tester is capable of sustaining physical effort for the duration).

Possible practical applications

– Firstly, the main locomotive characteristics of the tester are measured (running, walking, etc.). Then an audiovisual piece of work (media product) is broadcasted through a video screen and/or headphones.

– In the tested audiovisual work ‘control points’ corresponding to the main plot events (especially exciting scenes) are isolated for study.

– During intense scenes, changes in the characteristics of the testee’s locomotions (amplitude, frequency, power) are observed.

– Measurements are performed repeatedly on different persons. Test results are summarized to exclude random variations.

– If changes in locomotion characteristics are clearly observed and are correlated with levels of conceived emotional stresses, this means that the media product has worked successfully. If, on the contrary, there are weak emotional and motor reactions, it is necessary to change or modify the product (rewriting, sound arrangement, etc.), or even cut the scene entirely.

Read On: Part One
Image by Pixabay/Mezenmir

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