Movies that push our cognitive limits

September 23, 2013

Hyperlink films mirror contemporary globalized communities, using exciting cinematic elements and multiple story lines to create the idea of a world that is interconnected on many social levels. However, films in this genre like Crash, Babel, and Love Actually are not as new and innovative as presumed and still conform to conventional social patterns. These findings, by Jaimie Krems of Arizona State University in the US and Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford in the UK, are published in Springer's journal Human Nature.

Hyperlink cinema uses cinematic devices such as , interspersing scenes out of chronological order, split screens and voiceovers to create an interacting social network of storylines and characters across space and time. This gives the impression that people's lives can intersect on scales that would not have been possible without modern technologies of travel and communication.

Krems and Dunbar wondered if the sizes and properties of social networks in such films differ vastly from the real world or classic fiction. They set out to see if the films can side-step the natural cognitive constraints that limit the number and quality of social relationships people can generally manage. Previous studies showed for instance that conversation groups of more than four people easily fizzle out. Also, Dunbar and other researchers found that someone can only maintain a social network of a maximum of 150 people, which is further layered into 4 to 5 people (support group), 12 to 15 people (sympathy group), and 30 to 50 people (affinity group).

Twelve hyperlink films and ten female interest conventional films as well as examples from the real world and classical fiction were therefore analyzed. Krems and Dunbar discovered that all examples rarely differed and all followed the same general found in the conventional face-to-face world. Hyperlink films had on average 31.4 characters that were important for the development of plot, resembling the size of an affinity group in contemporary society. Their cast lists also featured much the same number of speaking characters as a Shakespeare play (27.8 characters), which reflects a broader, less intimate sphere of action. Female interest films had 20 relevant characters on average, which corresponds with the sympathy group size and mimics female social networks in real life.

"Because of our evolved psychology, humans cannot break through the cognitive glass ceiling that naturally limits our ability to handle , or to understand complex interpersonal dramas," explains Krems, who believes that a person's mental abilities determine how he or she is able to handle or be enthusiastic about genres, such as hyperlink films, that push the limits.

"Despite the promise it holds, digital and other new media may not help us engineer social networks or social cohesion on a larger scale, because our minds simply cannot understand or handle the mind states of more than a handful of people at once," Dunbar adds.

More information: Krems, J.A. & Dunbar, R.I.M. (2013). Clique Size and Network Characteristics in Hyperlink Cinema: Constraints of Evolved Psychology, Human Nature. DOI: 10.1007/s12110-013-9177-9

Related Stories

Recommended for you

How language gives your brain a break

August 3, 2015

Here's a quick task: Take a look at the sentences below and decide which is the most effective. (1) "John threw out the old trash sitting in the kitchen." (2) "John threw the old trash sitting in the kitchen out."

Neural efficiency hypothesis confirmed

July 27, 2015

One of the big questions intelligence researchers grapple with is just how differences in intelligence are reflected in the human brain. Researchers at ETH Zurich have succeeded in studying further details relating to suspected ...

How does color blindness affect color preferences?

July 21, 2015

(Medical Xpress)—Dichromacy is a color vision defect in which one of the three types of cone photoreceptors is missing. The condition is hereditary and sex-linked, mostly affecting males. Although researchers have explored ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.