Cinema at the service of science

Santiago Hidalgo

Santiago Hidalgo

Credit: Amélie Philibert | Université de Montréal

In 5 seconds

Newly appointed flm professor Santiago Hidalgo is studying how cinema can be used in a therapeutic setting, especially for children and people suffering from dementia.

In the movie, the boxer has taken many blows to the head, but even with blood gushing down his swollen face, he just wants to keep going. Nobody can stop him - not even his son, who's in the crowd watching, afraid how it will end. The camera switches between the boxers hammering away at each other, the spectators around the ring and the face of the little boy suddenly confronted with his father’s mortality.

This short scene, taken from the 1931 Hollywood movie The Champ, has been used in many psychology studies with one precise goal: to induce a state of sadness in viewers in a very short time, as little as five minutes.

Santiago Hidalgo is fascinated by the states of consciousness brought on by films such as these, as well as the many other impacts movies can have on filmgoers.

Understanding the experience

It's something that the newly appointed professor in Université de Montréal's Department of Art History and Film Studies always wanted to understand about the film-viewing experience, going right back to the beginnings of cinema.

His doctoral thesis at UdeM, under the direction of André Gaudreault, was titled The Possibilities of 'Film Consciousness': A Formulation in Search of a Theory.

“At the time,” he recalled, “I needed to rely on an old technology – books – in order to study how audiences reacted to films screened at the beginning of the 20th century."

Nowadays, neuroscience provides researchers with many tools to study the reactions of filmgoers with much greater precision. Neurokinematics, for instance, uses magnetic resonance imaging in order to study the effects of films on viewers. Researchers can now examine which areas of the brain are activated during a Hollywood movie, helping them to form a picture of the viewers’ emotional responses via tools for tracking eye movements and recognition of faces, and monitoring viewers' heart rates.

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