Cryptic Emotions and the Emergence of a Metatheory of Mind in Popular Filmmaking.Cogn Sci 2018; 42(4):1317-1344CS
Hollywood movies can be deeply engaging and easy to understand. To succeed in this manner, feature-length movies employ many editing techniques with strong psychological underpinnings. We explore the origins and development of one of these, the reaction shot. This shot typically shows a single, unspeaking character with modest facial expression in response to an event or to the behavior or speech of another character. In a sample of movies from 1940 to 2010, we show that the prevalence of one type of these shots-which we call the cryptic reaction shot-has grown dramatically. These shots are designed to enhance viewers' emotional involvement with characters. They depict a facial gesture that reflects a slightly negative and slightly aroused emotional state. Their use at the end of conversations, and typically at the end of scenes, helps to leave viewers in a state of speculation about what the character is thinking and what her thoughts may mean for the ongoing narrative.