Neurofilmology. Audiovisual Studies and the Challenge of Neuroscience

cove def

no. 22-23 | Spring/Fall 2014

Neurofilmology. Audiovisual Studies and the Challenge of Neuroscience

Edited by Adriano D’Aloia and Ruggero Eugeni

Over the last two decades, discoveries made in the field of cognitive neuroscience have begun to permeate the humanities and social sciences. In the context of this intersection, Neurofilmology is a research program that arises at the encounter between two models of viewer: the viewer-as-mind (deriving from a cognitive/analytical approach) and the viewer-as-body (typical of the phenomenological/continental approach). Accordingly, Neurofilmology focuses on the viewer-as-organism, by investigating with both empirical and speculative epistemological tools the subject of audiovisual experience, postulated as embodied, embedded, enacted, extended, emerging, affective, and relational.

This special issue of Cinéma & Cie focuses on major conceptual and epistemological arguments arising from the dialogue between audiovisual studies and neurosciences developed over the last twenty years. In fact, the contributors share the conviction that such a dialogue can be fruitful if and only if it is conducted within a common and consistent framework, including both epistemological and conceptual aspects. Such a framework should allow each of the research programs to contribute to a shared understanding of that particular and complex phenomenon that is the film and audiovisual media viewing experience.


  • Adriano D’Aloia and Ruggero EugeniNeurofilmology: An Introduction
  • Temenuga TrifonovaNeuroaesthetics and Neurocinematics: Reading the Brain/Film through the Film/Brain 
  • Maria PoulakiNeurocinematics and the Discourse of Control: Towards a Critical Neurofilmology 
  • Patricia PistersDexter’s Plastic Brain: Mentalizing and Mirroring in Cinematic Empathy 
  • Enrico CarocciFirst-Person Emotions: Affective Neuroscience and the Spectator’s Self 
  • Maarten Coëgnarts and Peter KravanjaThe Sensory-Motor Grounding of Abstract Concepts in Two Films by Stanley Kubrick 
  • Pia Tikka and Mauri KaipainenPhenomenological Considerations on Time Consciousness under Neurocinematic Search Light 
  • Vittorio Gallese and Michele GuerraThe Feeling of Motion: Camera Movements and Motor Cognition 

    Cover image: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (Joseph Green, USA 1962). Poster by Reynold Brown

    © 2015 – Mimesis International
    ISBN 9788869770227 | ISSN 2035-5270

Gli agguati dello sguardo

Fig. 1

Viviamo ancora le immagini dell’acqua,
le viviamo sinteticamente nella loro complessità primaria
dando spesso loro la nostra adesione irragionevole.

Gaston Bachelard, Psicanalisi delle acque, 1987

Riferimento imprescindibile dell’invenzione cinematografica contemporanea, le inquadrature “acquatiche” che presagiscono gli agguati dello squalo sono il cuore dell’esperienza che lo spettatore ha compiuto nel 1975 e continua tutt’oggi a compiere di fronte a Jaws. Il film di Steven Spielberg (regia), Verna Fields (montaggio), John Williams (musiche) e Bill Butler (fotografia) sfrutta con grande efficacia le potenzialità visive e simboliche dell’acqua, coinvolgendo lo spettatore in una terrorizzante immersione. Da sempre del resto l’acqua nel cinema dà materia e sostanza ai desideri, ai sogni, alle ossessioni, ai traumi, alle paure consce e inconsce dell’uomo, trasfigurando sullo schermo i miti e gli archetipi dell’immaginario individuale e collettivo. Questo contributo, intitolato Gli agguati dello sguardo. Enunciazione della suspense in Jaws e inserito nello speciale sui 40 anni de Lo squalo curato da Andrea Minuz per la rivista Cinergie (n. 7/2015), si sofferma proprio su alcuni aspetti stilistici e formali del film, in particolare sulle inquadrature “acquatiche” che contraddistinguono la prima metà del film e che suggeriscono la presenza del mostro e l’imminenza di un suo attacco all’uomo. La tesi fondamentale è che il gioco di allineamenti e disallineamenti ottici costruito attorno allo sguardo dello squalo e l’insistente sollecitazione della sensibilità corporea dello spettatore costituiscano un’originale strategia di costituzione dell’esperienza filmica.

Fig. 7

Snapshot culture. The persistence of the photographic experience in post-media aesthetics

CS IMAGECOMUNICAZIONI SOCIALI. Journal of Media, Performing arts and Cultural studies


The contemporary mediascape is characterized by continuous and endless remediation flows that re-shape and hybridize the contents, the forms and the vehicles of visual-based media experience. In such a scenario, over the last years photography has gained a central role in negotiating between the need for innovation propelled by digital media and the persistence of its original nature and purposes. On the one hand, the advent of photo-sharing websites and social networks, photography apps for mobile devices, portable hybrid devices for photo and video (e.g. GoPro), set the field for the emergence of new experimental and non-professional media practices that have progressively reshaped the spatiotemporal and sociocultural boundaries of the photographic image. The recent development of photographic devices, technologies and practices created a backfire effect on institutional forms of photographic communication (e.g. photojournalism, auteur photography, art exhibition, travel photography, reportage, camera and film market). On the other hand, such mutations caused a “crisis” of photography theory, since the hypothesis by which the digital transformation of the mediascape would have changed the uses and the ontology of photography, seems to be rebutted, for the latter continues to fulfil the same original concerns: the representation/identification of the self (and the other); the documentation, investigation and reinvention of reality; the poetic discovering of the hidden side of the world; the archiving of individual and collective memories; the crystallization of time and space. In brief, whereas the digital deposed device-content indivisibility, the photographic medium still hold its specificity of the experience and practices (rather than technologies) it enables and the cultural needs it implies and caters to.

Given these premises, the digitalization of photographic aesthetics and related media practices is an elective case 1) to study some of the most challenging mutations in contemporary visual culture and, more broadly, in media culture; 2) to reflect on the reception of such challenges in the field of photography theory. Consequently, this CS special issue aims to critically investigate the “persistence” of the photographic medium through 1) the analysis of concrete objects and phenomena, and 2) the refinement of theoretical approaches to photography, in both cases with particular attention to the aesthetic and phenomenological dimensions of the present-days photographic experience.

Objects of analysis and theoretical reflection may include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Think. Philosophy of photography, photography and cognitive sciences, semiotics of photography, art history and photography, etc.
  • Exchange. Cinema and photography, painting and photography, etc.
  • Share. Social networks and websites
  • Edit. Professional photo-editing apps for mobile devices
  • Store. Software, technologies and procedures of archiving
  • Organize. Tagging, hashtagging, etc.
  • Shoot. Selfies, Landscapes, etc.
  • Time. Animated Gif, time-lapse, etc.
  • Antiquise. Vintage filters and nostalgic practices
  • Extend.Selfie stick, wide-angles, helmet cams, etc.

Deadlines & Guidelines

Please send your abstract to both the editors Adriano D’Aloia ( and Francesco Parisi ( by March 15, 2015. Notifications of acceptance will be emailed shortly after the deadline. Abstracts must be from 300 to 400 words long, and may be presented in English. The proposal shall include 5 keywords, authors, institution, and contacts (e-mail), together with a short curriculum for each author.

In case the proposal is accepted, authors will be asked to send the whole article by June 20, 2015. Contributions will be sent to two independent reviewers in a double-blind procedure prior to publication decision. Articles should be of between 4,000-5,000 words in length (no more than 35,000 characters, spaces and notes included), but shorter articles will be considered.


CfP CS Photography.pdf


Keira’s Kiss

Copia di Figg.1-4

Though intimacy has been a wide concern in the humanities, it has received little critical attention in film studies. The book Intimacy in Cinema. Critical Essays on English Language Films, edited by David Roche and Isabelle Schmitt-Pitiot and published by McFarland, investigates both the potential intimacy of cinema as a medium and the possibility of a cinema of intimacy where it is least expected.

As a notion defined by binaries—inside and outside, surface and depth, public and private, self and other—intimacy, because it implies sharing, calls into question the boundaries between these extremes, and the border separating mainstream cinema and independent or auteur cinema. Following on Thomas Elsaesser’s theories of the relationship between the intimacy of cinema and the cinema of intimacy, the essays explore intimacy in silent and classic Hollywood movies, underground, documentary and animation films; and contemporary Hollywood, British, Canadian and Australian cinema from a variety of approaches.

My essay Keira’s Kiss. The Affordance of “Kissability” in the Film Experience draws on cognitive psychology and neuroscience to explain how the cinematic kiss turns the film experience into a sensuous and intimate experience. By analyzing a series of cinematic kissing scenes selected from dramas with British actress Keira Knightley as the main female character, I argue that the spectator’s desire and sense of intimacy are influenced by prereflexive perceptual dynamics and their neural correlates, in particular on the perception of affordance, as psychologist James J. Gibson posited it at the core of his ecological approach to visual perception. With regards to cinematic kissing as an act perceived by the spectator, it can be argued that lips are “kiss-on-able,” i.e., “kissable,” that is: lips afford kissing. In the chapter I make the bold claim that Keira Knightley’s lips are particularly “kissable.” This probably depends also on the individual physiognomic formation of her face and her way of talking (protruding lower jaw, slender cheeks, naturally full lips and large teeth are physical elements that directly express a tendency both to “explore” the surrounding environment and engage in intersubjective relationships principally via her lips). However, it is not a mere matter of physiognomy. Rather, a series of factors contributes to enhance “kissability.” First, aesthetic and stylistic factors such as mise en scène (makeup, acting style, photography etc.) and shot size (especially the use of closeups of her face and extreme closeups of her lips). Second, cognitive factors, including the narrative construction of the film: the kissing scene is often a climax in melodramas or dramatic scenes in other genres, and its emotional potential is narratively prepared. The analysis of kissing scenes selected from film starring Keira Knightley support this hypothesis—the”dancing kiss” Atonement (Joe Wright, 2007), the “quasi-kiss” Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (Gore Verbinski, 2006), the “singing kiss” in The Edge of Love (John Maybury, 2008), and the “biting kiss” in A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2001).

Intimacy cover

Print ISBN: 978-0-7864-7924-5
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-4766-1711-4
22 photos, 244pp.

Creative Energies » Creative Industries

CECI home

Reflecting on creativity has been central to a great deal of philosophical speculation, production practices and forms of reception of the artistic experience. Notions of creation and creativity concern crucial elements in media industries. Moreover, recent developments in institutional policies refer to the pivotal role of creativity in evaluating and promoting cultural production (see the EC’s most recent cultural program “Creative Europe”).

The 2014 NECS Conference, held in Milan, aims to revise and challenge assumptions on media creation and creativity, by looking at them as discursive formations, sociability instruments, power networks, modes of production and reception undergoing historical, political, theoretical and technological transformations.

Creative Energies » Creative Industries
The NECS 2014 Conference
Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
Milan, June 19-21, 2014

Conference website at

La vertigine e il volo

vertigine volo

Dalla camminata in precario equilibrio di un funambolo alla passeggiata spaziale di un astronauta sospeso nello spazio siderale, questo libro offre un vertiginoso percorso nelle forme con cui il cinema contemporaneo continua a coinvolgere lo spettatore intensificando le sue percezioni e le sue emozioni. Per la prima volta nell’ambito degli studi sull’esperienza filmica, il paradigma della cognizione incorporata e il concetto di simulazione incarnata vengono adottati per descrivere la relazione dello spettatore con i personaggi e con i mondi della finzione cinematografica, in un serrato dialogo fra teorie del cinema, estetica e neuroscienze cognitive. Acrobazia, caduta, impatto, capovolgimento, deriva sono le cinque tappe di questa esplorazione, quasi un unico movimento che si origina nella capacità del film di stimolare la corporeità dello spettatore e precipita verso il senso più profondo e umano dell’atto di partecipare empaticamente alle vicende del personaggio.

La vertigine e il volo. L’esperienza filmica fra estetica e neuroscienze cognitive
Fondazione Ente dello Spettacolo (Collana “Frames”), Roma 2013
43 immagini in b/n, pp. 396 | € 11,90
ISBN 978-88-85095-72-4

Scheda del libroAcquista online


Anche Gravity, come tutte le storie per lo schermo ambientate nello spazio, è un film sul senso del vuoto. Nell’accezione figurata, sull’abisso siderale in cui fluttua la vita umana, con le sue recondite preoccupazioni e le sue aspirazioni, la tensione verso l’enigma dell’infinito e dell’indefinito. Nell’accezione letterale, sulla possibilità di far vivere allo spettatore lo stesso disorientamento, lo stesso sradicamento, la stessa sospensione che i personaggi-astronauti sperimentano nelle loro missioni. La sfida, da cui l’opera di Alfonso Cuarón non si sottrae, è sempre ricomprendere un senso nell’altro, il significato del vuoto nella sensazione di vuoto.

Gravity segna però anche una cesura, forse un punto di non ritorno, nella storia del genere. La strategia d’ingaggio dello spettatore infatti enfatizza sino all’estremo una serie di situazioni e soluzioni che il film di esplorazione spaziale ha progressivamente conformato come specifiche del proprio stile estetico e narrativo. Il genere ha un vantaggio intrinseco: al cinema – ancor più se, come in questo caso, la proiezione è in 3D – s’instaura una continuità non solo simbolica ma anche spaziale fra il vuoto cosmico della rappresentazione e il buio della sala; se non addirittura una prossimità fisiologica fra lo stato corporeo dell’astronauta e le reazioni dello spettatore.

Continua a leggere la recensione pubblicata sul n. 184 di Segnocinema >>

Risate di piombo

Il ragazzo di campagna
Sarà presentato nell’ambito della 70. Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica di Venezia  il 4 settembre alle ore 17 presso lo stand dell’Ente dello Spettacolo, Hotel Excelsior – il numero 575 di Bianco e Nero. Sotto la direzione di Alberto Crespi, la storica rivista del Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia prova a rinnovarsi conciliando la tradizionale impostazione storico-scientifica con una più ampia riflessione sull’attualità. Il numero 575 si apre con una sezione monografica sul comico italiano, da Totò a Checco Zalone. La sezione è intitolata Riso amaro e indaga come dal cinema muto alla satira politica, la comicità sia la chiave per raccontare l’identità nazionale. Spesso svelando il dramma che si nasconde dietro la risata. In sommario saggi di Mariapia Comand, Adriano D’Aloia, Marco Cucco e Massimo Scaglioni, Gianni Canova, Roy Menarini, Paolo Noto, e un’intervista a Carlo Verdone che racconta il tema dal punto di vista dell’autore. Alla presentazione interverranno Alberto Crespi, direttore responsabile, Gabriele Antinolfi, Marcello Foti direttore generale del CSC, direttore della Divisione Editoria.

In my article “Risate di piombo”, I argue that at the end of the 1960s and in the middle 1970s, Italian television programs such as Quelli della domenica, L’altra domenica, Onda libera, and Non stop have launched a series of cabaret artists that will become the most notorious protagonists of the Italian popular comedy in the further decades (Enrico Montesano, Adriano Celentano, Renato Pozzetto, Paolo Villaggio, Roberto Benigni, Massimo Troisi, Francesco Nuti, Carlo Verdone). Although different in terms of style and intent – from political satire to mere ironic and nonsense entertainment – the cinematographic career of these “sons of television” reveals interesting aspects of the germinal and mutual relationship between tv and cinema on the track of comedy.



Film studies and the challenge of neuroscience

Cinéma&Cie. International Film Studies Journal
Special Issue no. 22/23
Edited by Adriano D’Aloia and Ruggero Eugeni

Call for Essays [pdf]

Over the last two decades, discoveries made in the field of cognitive neuroscience have begun to permeate the humanities and social sciences. In particular, the philosophical and psychological implications of the function of so-called ‘visuomotor neurons’ have caused a breakthrough in the understanding of the mind-body relation and of phenomena such as human consciousness, empathy, intersubjectivity, affect, and aesthetic response to works of art. This special issue of Cinéma&Cie aims to evaluate, from a multidisciplinary and critical perspective, both the relevance of the neurological approach for the psychology and the aesthetics of the film experience and, more generally, the epistemological consequences of this approach in the humanities.

The fundamental (and controversial) insight behind neuroscientific findings is that the complex processes of the human mind find in the brain’s architecture and functioning their neural correlates. This correlation is based on a functional link between observation of goal-directed actions or emotions and sensorimotor activation of the observer (Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia, Iacoboni). Unity of action and perception is allowed by an embodied simulation, a basic functional mechanism by means of which our brain-body system models its interactions with the world (Gallese). This proposal falls fully within the paradigm of embodied cognition, according to which cognition depends upon those experiences that come from having a body with various sensorimotor capacities that are embedded in a biological, psychological and cultural context (Varela, Thompson and Rosch). In turn, this paradigm is based on both a phenomenological account of the body and human experience (Husserl, Merleau-Ponty) and on the ecological approach to visual perception (Gibson).

Although at an intuitive level the activity of visuomotor neurons and the mirroring mechanism appear to constitute the ground for a new and empirically-based study of film participation, to date a few steps have already been taken in the direction of a neuroembodied theory of the film experience. Indeed, some neuroscientists not only consider cinema as a metaphor for the human mind (Damasio), but also carry out neuroimaging tests on audiences, aiming to outline a ‘neurocinematics’ (Hasson et al.). Since neuroscientific methods and procedures seem not suited to point out aesthetic, cultural or ethical implications, this proposal has been received with scepticism, as problematic and potentially subject to reductionism. Yet philosophical reflections drawn on neuroimaging experiments provide new tools of analysis and interpretation for film theory. For example, tests showing that human beings learn and relate with each other (and with fictional worlds) on the basis of an immediate pre-reflexive and empathetic kind of comprehension would give empirical consistency to the intuitions of the first aesthetic film theories (Epstein, Balázs, Eisenstein) and would revitalised classical filmology (Cohen-Séat, Souriau, Michotte).

In fact, the project of a new multidisciplinary approach to the film experience – Neurofilmology – would remain unproductive if not concretely applied to film aesthetics and viewer participation. More than metaphorically conceivable as an experimental laboratory setting, the film experience offers a space for testing formal solutions (in terms of point-of-view, editing, camera angles, camera movements, colour, lightning, etc.) that provide, control and regulate sensorimotor activation and emotional involvement. While neuroimaging methods cannot provide an aesthetic judgment on the cinematic style, they may serve as ‘an objective scientific measurement for assessing the effect of distinctive styles of filmmaking upon the brain, and therefore substantiate theoretical claims made in relation to them’ (Hasson et al.).

In contemporary film theory, the development of neuroscientific-based models for the study of spectatorship is part of the project of ‘psychocinematics’ (Shimamura) as a natural evolution of the centrality attributed to emotions by cognitivist film scholars (Grodal). Conversely, phenomenological film theory (Casebier, Shaviro, Sobchack) still seems to harbour some resistance to neurophenomenology (Varela), although the search for a post-dualistic neurological foundation of the film experience could allow it to overcome continental philosophy’s rejection of natural science. The study of the neural substratum of the film experience arises as a terrain of encounter and dialogue between cognitive and phenomenological film studies.

This special issue of Cinéma&Cie aims to investigate the possible (or impossible) relationship between cognitive neuroscience and film theories with particular reference to film spectatorship. Possible topics include (but are not limited to):

— Neurophilia/neuromania: critical approaches to the neurological account of the film experience
— Beyond the mirror: toward a phenomenological neuroscience in humanities
— Embodied mind/’Emminded’ body: possible convergence of phenomenological and cognitive film studies
— Enactivism vs. interactivism: simulation, narration, virtual reality and the convergence of the real and the fictional
— History of ‘Neurofilmology’: the mind/brain problem in the history of film theories
— Psychocinematics and Neurocinematics: experiments on the spectator between cognitive psychology and neurocognitive science
— Neurophenomenology of the film experience: the film-body revisited
— Film neuroaesthetics: neural substrates of film style
— Camera movements and sensorimotor simulation
— Cinematic empathy: the role of visuomotor neurons in the spectator’s emotional involvement and ethical implications
— Audiomotor neurons: the role of sound in embodied simulation 

Submission details

Please send your abstract (300-500 words in English + bibliographical references) and a short biographical note to both and by September 15, 2013. All notifications of acceptance will be emailed no later than September 30, 2013. If accepted, 4,000-word essays will then be required for peer review by January 31, 2014.

Grasping the grasp

film-philosophy conference 2013

I am attending the Film-Philosophy Conference 2013: Beyond Film, hosted by the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (Universiteit van Amsterdam) and the EYE Film Institute Netherlands. My paper Canonical cinema. Affordance and Embodied Simulation in the Film Experience aims to evaluate the relevance of the notion of affordance in the neurophenomenological approach to the film experience, with a particular focus on the role of so-called visuomotor neurons. In what sense the film spectator grasps the filmic objects by experiencing the characters’ physical and psychic activity? As grasping the filmic objects, I mean both – literally – the spectator’s simulation of the character’s physical action executed in order to grasp an object in the fictional environment and – figuratively – the spectator’s immediate, prereflexive, empathetic understanding of the meaning of the film characters’ actions, intentions and emotions via a kind of simulation rooted in the body. My idea is that cinema uses perception of affordance and embodied simulation strategically, in order to offer the spectator an exiting, thrilling, intensified experience in terms of sensorimotor and emotional activation (and in fact, these strategies can be found especially in ‘suspense’ genre such as thriller, action, and horror films). Here is a video of some of the ‘grasping strategies’ of intensification of the spectator’s experience: