Monkeys at the Movies: What Evolutionary Cinematics Tells Us about Film

Authors: Ghazanfar, Asif A.; Shepherd, Stephen V.

Source: Projections, Volume 5, Number 2, Winter 2011 , pp. 1-25(25)

Publisher: Berghahn Journals

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Abstract:

Because the visual neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of monkeys are largely similar to ours, we explore the hypothesis that the same cinematographic techniques that create a visual scene for us likely create one for these close kin. Understanding how monkeys watch movies can illuminate how film exploits the capacities we share with our simian relatives, what capacities are specific to humans, and to what extent human culture exerts an influence on our filmic experience. The article finds that humans and monkeys share a basic capacity to process sensory events on the screen. Both can recognize moving objects and acting individuals, and both prefer looking at motion pictures of social behaviors over static images. It seems clear that some of the same things that make movies “work” for human brains also work for the brains of our nonhuman relatives—excepting two critical features. First, humans appear to integrate sequential events over a much larger time frame than monkeys, giving us a greater attunement to the unfolding narrative. Moreover, humans appear to have special interest in the attention and intentional states of others seen on the screen. These states are shared through deictic cues such as observed gazing, reaching, and pointing. The article concludes that a major difference in how humans and monkeys see movies may be declarative in nature; it recognizes the possibility that movies exist as a means of sharing experience, a skill-set in which the human species has specialized and through which humans have reaped unprecedented rewards, including the art of film.

Keywords: COGNITIVE EVOLUTION; EPISODIC MEMORY; EYE MOVEMENTS; LOOMING; PRIMATE EVOLUTION; UNCANNY VALLEY

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3167/proj.2011.050202

Publication date: December 1, 2011

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