Moving Image Theory: Ecological Considerations

By Joseph D. Anderson; Barbara Fisher Anderson | Go to book overview

10

Cinematic Creation of Emotion

Dolf Zillmann

THE DYNAMICS OF emotion that govern responses to actual situations versus to cinematic presentations thereof may be much the same. There is ample research evidence that demonstrates considerable commonality in the mediation of affect by the two formats (Zillmann, 2000a). However, one principal condition exists that sets cinematic storytelling apart from alternative means of relating chains of events, and this condition proves to be pivotal in considering the creation and modification of emotional reactions. The condition in question is simply that cinematic narrative invariably compresses the time course of the happenings that make up a story and then, in delivering the story, imposes reception time (Grodal, 1997).

Emotions evoked in actuality by personal success or failure are usually allowed to run their course. A person, after achieving an important goal, may be ecstatic for minutes and jubilant for hours. Alternatively, a grievous experience may foster despair or sadness that similarly persists for comparatively long periods of time. Mostly for physiological reasons and also as a result of reflection, emotions are not momentary experiences, but cinematic narrative treats them as if they were. As a rule rather than the exception, featured events that instigate emotions are followed by the presentation of other events long before all relevant aspects of the instigated emotions have subsided. Such compression of emotional and nonemotional events has, as we will see, intriguing implications for emotional experience.

It should be noted at this point that the compression of events in cinematic narrative does not necessarily extend to fiction generally. Written prose allows readers to pause when emotionally stirred and to continue only after recovery. All presentational formats that permit the pacing of information intake afford recipients a degree of control over their affective responding. All formats that dictate the pace of intake, whether concerning fiction or nonfiction, do not. These formats, because they impose reception time, entail unique means of evoking and escalating emotional experience. The paradigm that addresses these means focuses on the transfer of excitation from an initial emotional reaction to subsequent ones, primarily to the immediately following reaction.


Excitation Transfer

Cognitive activity does not sufficiently define emotional experience. It is generally thought that emotions entail a stirring, rousing, and driving component. This component of the emotions has been labeled arousal or excitation, and it has been conceived of in bodily terms. Two-factor theories have suggested an interaction between cognition and arousal, with cognition determining emotions in kind and arousal their expe

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