Feb 09, 2016

Oscar-Nominated Lone Scherfig Films Emotionally Measured At The BFI

As part of the British Film Institute [BFI] 'Love : The Power of Love' season Sensum were invited to a cutting-edge interactive event at the BFI, Southbank, London.

Danish film director Lone Scherfig bravely joined us and other neuroscientists for this event to discuss scenes from her films One Day and An Education.


Dr Tim J Smith of Birkbeck University hosted a discussion around her films clips and data that Sensum collected from live audience experiments to measure the emotion and arousal, allowing us to examine how scenes affected us as an audience.

Why do we cry at a movie? Why do we smile when an actor smiles and share in the sorrow and joy of these flickering light patterns on a screen? For over a century, moving images have been a powerful medium for immersing us in their narrative worlds and allowing us to directly experience wide ranging emotions. This symbiotic relationship between film and the viewer has recently become the target of cutting-edge research into the neuroscience/psychobiology of human memory and emotions. For the first time, this event brought together scientists working in neuroscience and the psychology of emotion with a master of shaping audience emotions, the film director Lone Scherfig.

Prof. Dr Anne Bartsch {Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen) is a Media Psychologist who researches emotions at the movies.


Dr Gal Raz (Tel Aviv University) is a neuroscientist and film theorist specializing in imaging the brain's response to emotion and empathy in movies.


Gawain Morrison (CEO & co-founder Sensum) has a platform for capturing physiology changes providing emotional insights from audience response to movies.



Lone Scherfig is a Danish film director who has been involved with the Dogme 95 movement and who has been widely critically acclaimed for several of her movies, including Italian for Beginners, Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, the Oscar-nominated film An Education, One Day and The Riot Club.


Dr Tim J. Smith (Birkbeck University of London) who researches how we attend to and perceive audiovisual scenes and how filmmakers can shape our experiences through editing, cinematography and sound design.



Clips from Lone Scherfig's movies were used to demonstrate the range of emotions portrayed in her movies and to explore the techniques she used to invoke emotions in an audience. During the clips the physiological responses of a small number of audience members were recorded for the live experiment. This data was then analysed at the end of the event to provide unique insights into the psychology and physiology or emotion at the movies.


Our audience volunteers who provided their emotional response to Lone's film clips. Thanks guys.

The red lines are the average responses of everyone who took part, the dark blue the females and the light blue the males. The males were quite a bit more engaged through the clip, and both males and females had a similar response to the story beats.


Above we can see the awkward anticipation of the scene where Anne Hathway is dangling her nightie seductively through the bedroom door, whilst we've watched the awkward buildup of her not wanting to mess it up and Jim Sturgess reconsidering whether he should just go. As we can see from the results the audience were becoming more tense to the scene's resolution.



Through this whole scene in The Riot Club, it's more exhilarating due the lads driving the car through the streets with dance music and drinking, and is perfectly juxtaposed from the passionate love scene pervious to it, as you can see from the substantial difference in the audience engagement. The big button push in this scene is very obviously where the lad in the car is sick all over the windscreen and in the car.

These are just two scenes from the clips that we measured across a number of films, and the findings were fascinating, from seeing that the male audience members reacted more emotionally at those key emotional moments in Lone's film clips, through to watching the ebb and flow of the audience's empathy from awkward moments to laughter, melancholy or disgust.

A great big thank you to Lone Scherfig for allowing us to carry out a live experiment on her 'creative babies' and to Dr Tim J. Smith, Prof. Dr Anne Bartsch and Dr Gal Raz for sharing their knowledge and research with us. And of course the BFI for hosting the event as part of their 'Love' season.

This event was made possible by the generous donations from the BFI, Birkbeck and the Wellcome Trust.