Music Cognition and the Cognitive Psychology of Film Structure

By Cohen, Annabel J. | Canadian Psychology, November 2002 | Go to article overview

Music Cognition and the Cognitive Psychology of Film Structure


Cohen, Annabel J., Canadian Psychology


Abstract

Early 20th century psychologists drew attention to similarities between mental processes elicited by film and by music. Contemporary film theorists have also noted analogous film and music structures, and contemporary psychologists have used musical metaphors in discussions of film perception and cognition. These psychological parallels have not been explored through experimental research, in part, because of scarce experimental psychological research on film in contrast to the vast amount on music. The present article proposes that music cognition research provides insight into the perception of formal structure in film, taking as support an analysis of the film The Red Violin. The analysis reveals similarities between film and music with respect to three kinds of musical structure: central reference (tonality), large-scale form (rondo), and small-scale form (motif). Experiments are proposed to reveal the similarity in the mental processes engaged by music and film for each of the three types of structure, respectively. The application of principles and methods of music cognition to film psychology supports the intuitions of early psychological film theorists. The approach also generalizes to other art forms.

No systematic study has been made of how films may be based on repetitions and variations, but most critics implicitly recognize the importance of these processes. (Bordwell & Thompson, 1999, p. 87)

Like cognitive psychology, the subfield of music cognition has flourished over the last three decades. Recent extensions to the context of film (Cohen, 1994, 2000a) have investigated influences of music on film interpretation (Bolivar, Cohen, & Fentress, 1994; Boltz, 2001; Thompson, Russo, & Sinclair, 1994), film memory (Boltz, 2001; Cohen, 2000b), and visual attention (Lipscomb, 1999; Marshall & Cohen, 1988). The present article, however, focuses on the similarities in cognitive processes that music and film each evokes rather than on the effects of music on the mental processing of film. Emphasis on similarities of music and film finds precedents in early 20th century experimental psychology and film theory. Curiously, these first music-film analogies faded into obscurity, possibly because no experimental psychology of film was developed for comparison with music. Nonetheless, similarities between music and film processes emerge once again in contemporary experimental psychology and film theory. The present article first reviews these historic and recent analogies between music and film and then examines one film in particular from the perspective of music cognition. It is argued that if past precedents are correct and music and film exploit similar cognitive processes, then recent research in music cognition should facilitate understanding of film cognition.

EARLY ANALOGIES BETWEEN MUSIC AND FILM IN PSYCHOLOGY AND FILM THEORY

Film, unlike most arts, emerged after the beginning of experimental psychology. The first commercial films were shown around the start of the 20th century, and film entertainment became generally accessible about a decade later. Initially the appeal of film was two-fold: first, as the new phenomenal experience of the motion picture medium, or the photoplay as Americans called it, and second, as the content of the film be it story or documentary. Notably, the period just prior to and after the First World War was the only epoch in the Western world during which an audience encountered film first as adults rather than as children. Thus, early psychologists might have had insights about the new film medium that can never again be obtained.

Behaviourism, with its focus on observable behaviour, gained a foothold in experimental psychology at this time. Nevertheless, mental experience still found a following in psychology departments. The rise of motion pictures fostered interest in the stroboscopic effect of apparent motion, fundamental to the illusion of continuity on the screen (Ash, 1995, p. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Music Cognition and the Cognitive Psychology of Film Structure
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.