Neuroscience and the experience of "losing yourself" in a film

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From Wired, the more interesting part:

Consider this study, led by Uri Hasson and Rafael Malach at Hebrew University. The experiment was simple: they showed subjects a vintage Clint Eastwood movie (“The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”) and watched what happened to the cortex in a scanner. The scientists found that when adults were watching the film their brains showed a peculiar pattern of activity, which was virtually universal.
[...]

[I]t’s also worth pointing out which brain areas didn’t “tick together” in the movie theater. The most notable of these “non-synchronous” regions is the prefrontal cortex, an area associated with logic, deliberative analysis, and self-awareness. Subsequent work by Malach and colleagues has found that, when we’re engaged in intense “sensorimotor processing” – and nothing is more intense for the senses than a big moving image and Dolby surround sound – we actually inhibit these prefrontal areas. The scientists argue that such “inactivation” allows us to lose ourself in the movie.
I've often wondered about how some people find it easy to get right into the movies, and some are more inclined to keep a distance from what happens on screen. To extrapolate on the article's highlights, then, it might be reasonable to suspect that those lacking in experiential awareness (i.e. in their bodily sensation, either due to habitual experience suppression or inability to do so in the first place) would have a harder time "getting into" the movie going experience, and continue to engage in prefrontal cortex activity, which puts a bit of a psychological distance between the self and the screen.

It makes sense given that emotional arousal (which includes bodily experience), one that is triggered by a particular aspect of the film that taps into a self-relevant subconscious / unsymbolized / unarticulated experience, can also override the prefrontal cortex activity. In other words, if you're the kind of person who finds experiential awareness challenging, you might still be able to immerse yourself in the film viewing process if there are aspects of the film that really speak to your deep-down emotional experience.

In summary, breaking news: if you're not getting the most out of your film going experience, it's either you, or the film.



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