Cognition at the Movies-Cognitivism Study Day

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Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street Room B35

Malet St


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Hosted by Dr Tim J. Smith (Department of Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck) and the Birkbeck Institute of Moving Images (BIMI)

Since cinema’s inception filmmakers and theorists have been interested in the relationship between film and its audience. How do directorial decisions influence what we see on the screen and how does a viewer’s prior beliefs and interests influence how they experience a film? Cognitive Science, the interdisciplinary investigation of mental phenomena using theories and techniques from neuroscience, psychology and philosophy has recently begun to be applied to these questions of film cognition. This workshop will bring together film theorists, cognitive psychologists and philosophers in an exploration of the relationship between film and its audience.

Presenters: Prof. Murray Smith (Kent), Prof. Ian Christie (Birkbeck), Prof. Sheena Rogers (James Mason U.), Dr. William Brown (Roehampton), Steve Hinde (Bristol), Dr. Paul Taberham (Kent), and Dr. Tim J. Smith (Birkbeck).

Keynote presentation ‘Comic Entertainment, Film, and the Embodied Brain’ by Prof Torben Grodal (Copenhagen) author of Moving Pictures and Embodied Visions.

The lecture will first provide a short description of how muscles and action is important for the embodied brain and for our experience of narratives. The basis for the standard narrative reflects the Brain’s PECMA flow: Perception, Emotion, Cognition, and Motor Action. Characters and viewers want to modify some states of the world by motor action, including verbal actions. The lecture will then discuss the embodied brain’s three ’bail out’ mechanisms where the modification of the world by action is supplanted with self-modification: Crying, as in sad melodramas, laughter, as in comedies, and freeze reactions as effects of sublime submission to the exterior world. The lecture will especially focus on comic entertainment and discuss the processes that allows the brain to evaluate something as ’not real’, as ’not a cause for action’ and redirect the arousal from a given scene from tense world-directedness to laughter. It will finally discuss the social nature of comic entertainment and those mammalian play-functions that serve as facilitators for the reality status evaluations in comic entertainment that makes it possible to experience shame, failure and other negative events with a strongly positive hedonic tone.


9:30-10 Registration

10-10:15 Welcome and Introduction

10:15-11 Prof. Ian Christie (Birkbeck) - Psychology in the dark: just what is it we want to know?

11-11:45 Dr. William Brown (Roehampton) - He(u)retical Film Theory: Cinema and the Brain

11:45-12:30 Prof. Sheena Rogers (James Mason U.) - Towards Transcendence: Cognitive Components of the Sublime in Art

12:30-1:30 Lunch break

1:30-2:30 KEYNOTE: Prof. Torben Grodal (Copenhagen) - Comic Entertainment, Film, and the Embodied Brain

2:30-3:15Dr. Paul Taberham (Kent-Canterbury) - Avant-Garde Film in an Evolutionary Context

3:15-4:00Prof. Murray Smith (Kent-Canterbury) - Murder Ballads

4-4:15 Coffee break

4:15-35Steve Hinde (Bristol) - A Study of Attention while People Watch Movies.

4:35-5Parag K. Mital (Goldsmiths) - Resynthesizing Perception

5-5:45Dr. Tim J. Smith (Birkbeck) - Cinematic Universality: Do I see the same movie you see?

5:45 - 6:30 Discussion

6:30 + Wine reception

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Date and time


Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street Room B35

Malet St


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Organizer Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image

Organizer of Cognition at the Movies-Cognitivism Study Day

Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image (BIMI) is a response to the growing interest in film and the moving image across the College. Through public events and academic research initiatives, BIMI will address a wide variety of contemporary issues, particularly those relevant to its interdisciplinary structure.  Working closely with the Birkbeck Cinema, BIMI programmes public screenings and special seasons, making use of 35 mm film in addition to the Cinema’s high quality DVD projection.

We will be running a busy calendar of events from research seminars to film screenings. Please check these pages for further details in the coming weeks.

BIMI is funded across three schools at Birkbeck: the School of Arts, School of Law, and School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy.  The University of Pittsburgh is also a partner and co-funder.

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