Researcher heads to Hollywood to talk about the science of the cinema

Dr Tim Smith will host unprecedented events with filmmakers about how audiences respond to films

Birkbeck cognitive scientist Dr Tim Smith (pictured, right) will host two unprecedented events in Hollywood with filmmakers about how audiences respond to films. He will present his research about the psychological and physiological reactions caused by movies at the evenings run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – the famous Academy that hosts the Oscars.

The sold out events, entitled Movies in your brain: the science of cinematic perception, are for filmmakers and cognitive scientists. Film director and actor Jon Favreau (Chef, Iron Man and Iron Man 2) and film editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now and The English Patient) will be the special guests at the first event on 29 July. Director, screenwriter and producer Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan and Noah) and Ari Handel, who co-wrote Noah with Aronofsky, will be the special guests the following night.

Scientific experiments

The audience will have the opportunity to participate in hands-on experiments to discover how movies guide our eyes, what we perceive and our emotions. Using clips from Iron Man 2 and Chef (on 29 July) and Black Swan and Noah (on 30 July), both evenings will include conversations with the scientists and filmmakers, providing a fascinating look at how experiments in neuroscience can advance our understanding of cinema and how cinema can advance our understanding of the human brain.

Dr Smith, a senior lecturer in Birkbeck’s Department of Psychological Sciences, specialises in the study of visual cognition, with a particular focus on eye movements and film cognition. He said: “These are the first events of their kind, and they will help generate new insights. The filmmakers are very enthusiastic as they have not looked at the neuroscience behind watching films before. The technologies we are going to be discussing are fascinating – neuroimaging, and the monitoring of heart rates, skin temperature and eye movements while audiences are watching films. I have been in awe of Walter Murch and Darren Aronofosky for some time, and it will be fascinating to hear what they have to say about the latest research.”

Research interests

Dr Smith is interested in all aspects of film cognition and the application of empirical Cognitive Psychology methods to questions about the evolution, form, techniques and experience of visual narratives.

The majority of his research involves neurotypical, adult populations. However, he is also interested in the development of attentional control, scene perception, and social cognition in infants and the impairment of these processes in children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Dr Smith has previously presented his research to Dreamworks Animation. He completed an internship at the Institute of Creative Technologies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) while researching for his PhD.