Monday, July 24, 2006

Carnival of Souls

The Synapse No. 3 (a neuroscience carnival) is now available for your reading pleasure at The Neurophilosopher's Blog!

July 23, 2006
The Haunting
New York Times Magazine
. . .

Horror, like comedy, has always been something of a reptilian-brain endeavor, unusual among the arts insofar as it is successful only when it is able to produce a single, audible emotional effect — a scream or a laugh — that is primal, cathartic and difficult to understand. This is one reason that horror has always been a director's medium: the horror movie is a contraption, and it takes a certain organizational flair to design, pace and frame a scare.

We've seen fMRI studies of neural responses to viewing happy and sad film clips, why not of horror films? The July 2005 issue of the International Journal of Psychophysiology is on the Neurobiology of Fear and Disgust.
Stark R, Schienle A, Sarlo M, Palomba D, Walter B, Vaitl D. (2005). Influences of disgust sensitivity on hemodynamic responses towards a disgust-inducing film clip. Int J Psychophysiol. 57(1):61-7.

The major goal of the present functional magnetic resonance imaging study was to investigate the influence of disgust sensitivity on hemodynamic responses during disgust induction. Fifteen subjects viewed three different film excerpts (duration: 135 s each) with disgust-evoking, threatening and neutral content. The films were presented in a block design with four repetitions of each condition. Afterwards, subjects gave affective ratings for the films and answered the questionnaire for the assessment of disgust sensitivity (QADS, []). The subjects' overall disgust sensitivity was positively related to their experienced disgust, as well as to their prefrontal cortex activation during the disgust condition. Further, there was a positive correlation between subjects' scores on the QADS subscale spoilage/decay and their amygdala activation (r=0.76). This was reasonable since the disgust film clip depicted a cockroach-invasion and the subscale spoilage/decay contains, among others, an item asking for disgust towards cockroaches. The study stresses, in accordance to previous studies, the importance of considering personality traits when studying affective responses in fMRI studies.

View trailer for Carnival of Souls.

For those into such things, there's a good analysis of that horror flick By PAUL KESLER.
Fundamentally, Carnival Of Souls is a visual exploration of death, which, in the course of this exploration, sees death from a subjective point of view that is at times reminiscent of Carl Dreyer's "Vampyr". However, its subjectivity is far more radical than that of the Dreyer film, since Dreyer, concentrating to some extent on actual occurences rooted in a particular time and place, dwelt only sporadically on the inner consciousness of his protagonist. By contrast, it could be argued that everything in Carnival Of Souls other than the physical death of the main character is subjective in nature. As a result, we are forced into suspension of disbelief as to the reality-status of a woman who, though materially dead, continues to experience many things through "normal" consciousness.
In the study of Stark et al. (2005),
Three film clips (DISGUST, FEAR, NEUTRAL, 135 s each) with sound track were presented to the subjects. Each clip was a scene selected from a commercial movie: DISGUST showed an invasion of cockroaches, a scene from the movie Creepshow I (Romero and Rubinstein, 1982). FEAR was drawn from The Hitcher (Harmon et al., 1986) and depicted a boy threatened by a man armed with a knife. NEUTRAL came from Switzerland—The Alpine Wonderland (Scro et al., 1989) and showed urban areas.
The paper was mostly about disgust and how the participants' self-ratings on a disgust sensitivity questionnaire correlated with neural responsiveness in the orbitofrontal cortex, medial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. Are the contestants on Fear [and Disgust] Factor screened with such questionnaires before going on the show??

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