Research Article: Embodying the camera: An EEG study on the effect of camera movements on film spectators´ sensorimotor cortex activation

Date Published: March 13, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Katrin Heimann, Sebo Uithol, Marta Calbi, Maria Alessandra Umiltà, Michele Guerra, Joerg Fingerhut, Vittorio Gallese, Alessio Avenanti.


One key feature of film consists in its power to bodily engage the viewer. Previous research has suggested lens and camera movements to be among the most effective stylistic devices involved in such engagement. In an EEG experiment we assessed the role of such movements in modulating specific spectators´ neural and experiential responses, likely reflecting such engagement. We produced short video clips of an empty room with a still, a zooming and a moving camera (steadicam) that might simulate the movement of an observer in different ways. We found an event related desynchronization of the beta components of the rolandic mu rhythm that was stronger for the clips produced with steadicam than for those produced with a still or zooming camera. No equivalent modulation in the attention related occipital areas was found, thus confirming the sensorimotor nature of spectators´ neural responses to the film clips. The present study provides the first empirical evidence that filmic means such as camera movements alone can modulate spectators’ bodily engagement with film.

Partial Text

In the last decades, the perspective of embodied cognition in the cognitive sciences has become increasingly influential. Within this development, it has been suggested that not only our everyday perceptual and cognitive tasks, but also the experience of cultural artifacts and works of art, like paintings and movies, is mediated by bodily resonance processes and by motor system responses to physical and medial qualities of these objects [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. A neuronal mechanism that has been suggested to play a major role in this phenomenon is the so-called mirror mechanism. This term commonly refers to an action-perception link—originally discovered in macaque monkeys—in which a class of neurons within the premotor cortex have been found to respond not only to the execution of goal-related actions but also to the observation of similar actions when executed by others [6]. The existence of such action-perception link has by now also been firmly supported in humans [7, 8, 9, 10, 11], and a vast range of research has addressed its possible function within a variety of cognitive tasks such as action understanding [11,12], empathy [13] as well as aesthetic experience [1, 14].

In a previous study [19], we investigated whether the specific use of a camera or lens movement would modulate the spectators’ mirror mechanism when viewing a hand action performed by an actor on the screen. The results of that study showed that approaching the scene with a camera, and specifically with a steadicam, correlated with stronger ERD of the mu rhythm compared to watching the same scene filmed from a fixed distance. However, these results raised further questions regarding the precise nature of the motor simulation at stake. As a first possibility, they could indicate that the steadicam added ecological validity to the presentations, leading to stronger activation of the mirror mechanism in response to the observation of the hand actions executed by the actor in the scene. Indeed, previous studies indicated that the specific way of presenting an action is an important factor as, for example, a consistent number of mirror neurons in macaques respond more intensely to live actions than to videos of the same actions [38].




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