Saturday, January 30, 2010

Brains Don’t Buy Tickets, Moviegoers Do

A provocative and funny piece in February’s WIRED examines a San Diego company’s efforts to evaluate films by giving fMRIs to people watching them. The firm, MindSight Neuromarketing, sticks people into an MRI and shows them clips while watching their brains for amygdalar action. Because the little almond-shaped nuclei in the brain are associated with intense emotions, the premise is that if they light up, the movie maker is doing something right. Journalist Scott Brown has his tongue in his cheek when he says that he looks forward to films that will redline his amygdala activation nonstop and when he predicts that “movie houses will become crack dens with cup holders, and I’ll lie there mainlining pure viewing pleasure for hours.”
My favorite part though, is that the movie-loving test subjects “often… tell a human researcher one thing while the fMRI reveals they’re feeling the opposite.”
Subject: No, Dr. Cinema, I didn’t like the chess scene, it was boring.
Researcher: Actually, you loved it. You just thought it was boring you.
Who is a director going to believe, the fMRI or the human?
Letting fMRI guide your film would be like asking the idiot lights on your dashboard to tell you where to drive. Maybe they have something important to say once in a while, but they’ll suck at finding the scenic route to Mendocino.
Anyway, if you are into redlining your amygdalae, there’s plenty of material out there already that can make it glow till it drops. And THAT is boring.
Bottom line, directors may flirt with MindSight-type feedback for a couple of years, but will soon realize that people buy movie tickets, not amygdalae.