Through the Eyes of the Camera: Understanding Spatial Relations and Perspective Taking in Film

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The study of edited moving images has started to attract more interest among researchers in recent years due to their complex yet highly constructed nature, especially with respect to spatiotemporal continuity. Movies are unique visual stimuli that offer an enjoyable and seamless experience in the face of an objectively detached and segmented structure. Continuity editing rules are at the core of Hollywood cinema and those aim mainly at maintaining spatial continuity across shots. This dissertation provides further understanding to the perceptual mechanisms used to make accurate and fast integration of spatial information provided in separate movie shots into a coherent spatial representation. Those, in most cases, represent more than one agent’s viewpoint. In the scope of this dissertation, four main lines of experiments are carried out to examine how editing conventions affect viewers’ judgments for spatial relations, especially involving the position of actors in a movie scene. The results indicated that the employment of the 180-degree rule facilitates viewers’ judgments for actor positions in movie scenes and leads to faster decisions. In addition, establishing shots, which are wide-angle shots positioned at the beginning of scenes, have a complimentary but important role in keeping those relations current. Results also showed that congruent agent cues (gaze and body direction) lead to more accurate and faster judgments with respect to an upcoming position of an agent and viewers put more emphasis on body direction. Overall, the discussed experiments support the view that continuity editing rules in movies make use of people’s perceptual tendencies. The strategic usage of camera angles offers better and faster solutions to complex visual information. These rules facilitate spatial transformations across shots and alleviate cognitive resources dedicated to maintaining a coherent spatial map, which is otherwise effortful. Therefore, the viewer can allocate the much-needed resources to follow the narrative more efficiently.

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Psychology; Cognitive psychology; continuity editing; film perception; Hollywood Film; perspective taking; spatial perception; visual perception; Experimental psychology


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Cutting, James Eric

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Pizarro, David A.
Finlay, Barbara L.
Field, David James

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Ph. D., Psychology

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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