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Movies In Your Brain: The Science of Cinematic Perception

Filmmakers, cognitive scientists and other special guests came together for a unique two-night exploration into the science of how movies move us, discussing how filmmaking has evolved to carefully shape the mental and physical responses of audiences.

Using clips from such movies as Iron Man 2 and Chef (Night One) and Black Swan and Noah (Night Two), both evenings included conversations with the scientists and filmmakers, providing a fascinating look at how experiments in neuroscience can advance our understanding of cinema, and how cinema can advance our understanding of the human brain.

The audience also had the opportunity to participate in hands-on experiments in movie viewing that examined how movies guide our eyes and what we perceive.

Program host Tim J. Smith specializes in the study of visual cognition with a particular focus on eye movements and film cognition. He is a senior lecturer in psychological sciences at Birkbeck, University of London.


Night One (July 29)

Jon Favreau directed, wrote, produced and starred in this year’s hit comedy Chef. He also directed Iron Man and Iron Man 2, as well as Elf, Zathura: A Space Adventure and Cowboys & Aliens.

Nine-time Academy Award nominee Walter Murch is a film editor and sound designer who has garnered three Oscars, for his work on Apocalypse Now and The English Patient. His book “In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing” serves as a touchstone for many in the field of cognitive science.

Night Two (July 30)

Director, screenwriter and producer Darren Aronofsky received a 2010 Oscar nomination for Directing for Black Swan. His other features include Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler and Noah

Ari Handel co-wrote Noah with Darren Aronofsky and collaborated with him on The Fountain, The Wrestler and Black Swan. Handel is also a neuroscientist; he earned a Ph.D. in neurobiology from New York University. He and Aronofsky were suitemates during their undergraduate studies at Harvard University.


James Cutting’s areas of expertise include perceptual and cognitive processing and their relationship to film editing, frame rates, projection, and scene and narrative structure. Cutting chairs the department of psychology at Cornell University. 

Uri Hasson coined the term “neurocinematics” and was one of the first to investigate how the brain responds to movies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). He is an associate professor of psychology and neurosciences at Princeton University.

Talma Hendler, founder and director of the Functional Brain Center at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, uses brain imaging to study how film elicits emotional and empathetic experiences in viewers and how individual differences can alter the way viewers' brains respond to a movie. She is a full professor of psychology and psychiatry and a neuroscientist at Tel Aviv University.  

Jeffrey M. Zacks is a psychologist and neuroscientist who studies how people perceive events in movies, books and real life. He is a professor of psychology and radiology at Washington University in St. Louis and author of the upcoming book “Flicker: Your Brain on Movies.”

Read more about the event and watch highlights here.


Event Information

Tuesday and Wednesday,
July 29 and 30 at 7:30 p.m.
Linwood Dunn Theater
1313 Vine Street
Hollywood, California


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