Gustavo Deco

Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Published in the leading international journal Science Advances, researchers from Universities of Oxford (UK), Aarhus (Denmark), Buenos Aires (Argentina) and UPF have shown how watching movies, a favorite pastime for billions of people, makes us feel and think in often transformative ways compared to our everyday experiences. In a technical tour-de-force, the authors used high resolution large-scale neuroimaging data from 176 people watching movies clips from films including Inception, The Social Network, Ocean’s Eleven, Home Alone, Erin Brockovich and The Empire Strikes Back to directly investigate the hierarchical reorganisation of the brain when watching movies.

Building whole-brain models of the brain activity elicited by movie watching as well as from that elicited in the same people resting or performing tasks allowed the authors to show that the brain hierarchy is flatter when watching movies compared to both rest and tasks. This suggests that less computation is needed when watching movies. Paradoxically, the brain is therefore less driven by internal dynamics in movie watching than when performing tasks or when resting. This shows that while watching movies, we are momentarily free from the stressful experience of working and having to solve problems. Instead, the brain is allowed to just absorb the narrative, leading to engagement of the necessary brain circuitry responsible for the highly motivating and soothing pleasure of movies.