What is it about?

Movies are widely loved, in part because they are so effective in eliciting emotional responses among viewers. Audiences undoubtedly respond to the stories told on screen, but how does the visual structure of these stories contribute to their impact? In this study, we measured the effects of clutter, luminance, motion, shot pacing, and shot scale (as well as sound amplitude) on multiple measures of emotion as viewers watched a series of short films.

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Why is it important?

Our findings highlight the importance of the visual structure of movies in driving emotional response, bolstered by the fact that a large number of viewers responded in much the same way to each film.


As someone trained in both filmmaking and experimental psychology, I am excited that this study offers empirical support for the emotional impact of the visuals of cinema. While we believe that filmmakers have an intuitive understanding of how to craft their movies in order to heighten emotional responses among viewers, this study provides a more concrete framework for these efforts. We hope that you enjoy this article and that it allows you to reflect on how your own emotional responses to your favorite movies might be shaped by their visual structure.

Kacie Armstrong
Bowdoin College

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: On the physical variables filmmakers use to engage viewers., Psychology of Aesthetics Creativity and the Arts, May 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/aca0000483.
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