The Synchronized Brains of Movie Viewers
Heather Callaghan, Guest
Why read the book when I can watch the movie version?
It’s been said before that the main difference between people reading a book and people watching a movie is this: Reading is very personal – the interpretation of words can be as different as the variety of people reading it. It is likely that no two people see the exact same image in their minds.
Movies, however, are a different story – everyone sees the same story and image. Not too much is left to interpretation. But it also could be different as far as brain stimulation goes. A faster type of brain imaging technology is proving that the brains of people watching a movie are united in synchronization. A movie triggers the exact same points of their brains, at the exact same time of viewing – spiking and flat-lining in sync.
Researchers at Aalto University in Finland have succeeded in developing a method fast enough to observe immediate changes in the function of the brain, even quick stimulation while watching a movie. And that is the intended purpose of using magnetoencephalography (MEG) as opposed to the common functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). MEG captures superior temporal resolution within milliseconds.
Movies were really a testing ground for this brain scan technology and also showed brain synchronization with other viewers. Interestingly, the movie clip of At Land, showed to eight people was a mere 15-minute clip from a black and white silent film (1944).
By employing movies it was possible to investigate the function of the human brain in experimental conditions that are close to natural. Traditionally, in neuroscience research, simple stimuli, such as checkerboard patterns or single images, have been used.
Viewing a movie creates multilevel changes in the brain function. Despite the complexity of the stimulus, the elicited brain activity patterns show remarkable similarities across different people – even at the time scale of fractions of seconds.
While the medical benefits of MEG are clearly demonstrated using movies as the test, what does it really say about theaters full of people viewing the same screen? Would the same synchronization take place on a roller coaster?
What about eight people reading the same book? Would the act of reading create synchronization – or the interpretation of imagery? And, does this syncing effect bond people at some level, or isolate them?
Here is an image from the study found here, showing how closely the brain graphs are synchronized:
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