When you sit down to watch a movie, you know that it isn’t real. And yet sometimes, a particular film has you on the edge of your seat, ready to jump as if it were as real as the couch you’re sitting on.
That’s a powerful effect.
Think of the last time you jumped, yelped, or gasped during a horror film.
“Usually when we’re watching something we’ve shut down the motor regions of the brain, and yet those stimuli [from a shocking scene] are so strong that they overcome the inhibition to the motor system,” says Michael Grabowski, an associate professor of communication at Manhattan College and the editor of the textbook “Neuroscience and Media: New Understandings and Representations.”
We jump or yell because a film bypasses our tranquilized state and taps into a primal instinct, which is to react immediately to protect ourselves and warn others – before taking time to process what scared us.
“The scream is a way to alert others in your social group,” says Grabowski.
Grabowski’s background is in filmmaking, but his research now is focused on an emerging field called “neurocinematics,” which focuses on the connection between the mind and the experience of cinema.
While filmmakers have been able to evoke emotional responses in viewers for more than a century, it’s only now that modern neuroscience can show us what’s happening in someone’s brain.
This goes beyond horror, too. Think of the last time that you felt emotion while watching any film, tears welling up in your eyes. Despite knowing a film isn’t real, you feel real emotion all the same.
-More at Business Insider