Brain activity revealed when watching a feature film

Human brain functions have been studied in the past using relatively simple stimuli, such as pictures of faces and isolated sounds or words. Researchers from Aalto University Department of Biomedical Engineering and Computational Science have now taken a highly different approach: they have studied brain functions in lifelike circumstances.

In their new study, published in , the group examined how the brain processes the film The Match Factory Girl by Aki Kaurismäki.

Films have been previously used to study , but the brain activity patterns have been integrated over the whole duration of the film, and thus time information is lost. This is like compressing a whole film into just one frame. In some studies, scientists have looked at dynamic brain activity, but focusing on a single brain region at a time.

The Aalto University scientists on the other hand study the full brain activity patterns with the time resolution allowed by functional magnetic resonance imaging. This way it possible to find out which events in the film cause changes in the brain activity, and which brain areas are activated at each moment.

This analysis revealed, for example, that parts of a brain network that usually respond to speech also become activated during other types of communication, such as writing. Some other areas of the network were very selective to speech.

The researchers combined two complementary approaches to disclose the brain activity. One based on dependencies of activation in different parts of the brain, and the other begins from detailed analysis of the visual and acoustic features of which the film is composed.

The results revealed brain networks in which activity follows remarkably well the complex model of the auditory and visual features of the film. For example, brain activity in the auditory cortex followed the soundtrack extremely well over the whole length of the film, and viewing the motions of characters' hands reliably activated widespread areas of the brain.

"Our study opens new ways for studying human brain functions. Many brain areas that process sensory information reveal their principles only if sufficiently complex and naturalistic are used," explain researcher Juha Lahnakoski and Professor Mikko Sams from Aalto University Department of and .

The new methods also make it possible to study brain mechanisms' underlying behaviour in normal everyday conditions – by simulating them in films.

More information: Lahnakoski JM, Salmi J, Jääskeläinen IP, Lampinen J, Glerean E, Tikka P, and Sams M. (2012) Stimulus-Related Independent Component and Voxel-Wise Analysis of Human Brain Activity during Free Viewing of a Feature Film. PLoS ONE 7(4): e35215. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0035215

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How do we combine faces and voices?

Mar 09, 2011

Human social interactions are shaped by our ability to recognise people. Faces and voices are known to be some of the key features that enable us to identify individual people, and they are rich in information such as gender, ...

Brain waves control the impact of noise on sleep

Sep 06, 2011

During sleep, our perception of the environment decreases. However the extent to which the human brain responds to surrounding noises during sleep remains unclear. In a study published this week in Proceedings of ...

In the brain, winning is everywhere

Oct 05, 2011

Winning may not be the only thing, but the human brain devotes a lot of resources to the outcome of games, a new study by Yale researchers suggest.

Recommended for you

Study links enzyme to autistic behaviors

10 hours ago

Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is a genetic disorder that causes obsessive-compulsive and repetitive behaviors, and other behaviors on the autistic spectrum, as well as cognitive deficits. It is the most common ...

A new cause of mental disease?

15 hours ago

Astrocytes, the cells that make the background of the brain and support neurons, might be behind mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia, according to new research by a Portuguese team from ...

Molecular basis of age-related memory loss explained

Jul 22, 2014

From telephone numbers to foreign vocabulary, our brains hold a seemingly endless supply of information. However, as we are getting older, our ability to learn and remember new things declines. A team of ...

The neurochemistry of addiction

Jul 22, 2014

We've all heard the term "addictive personality," and many of us know individuals who are consistently more likely to take the extra drink or pill that puts them over the edge. But the specific balance of ...

User comments