How Movies Trick Your Brain Into Empathizing With Characters

by Peter D. Marshall

by Greg Miller.


There’s a scene near the end of Black Swan, where Nina finally loses her grip on reality. Nina, played by Natalie Portman, is the protagonist of this 2010 psychological thriller, a ballerina stressed to the breaking point by competing with another dancer for a starring role. She begins to hallucinate black feathers poking through her skin, a sign she’s becoming the part she’s meant to play.

When people watch this scene, their brain activity bears some resemblance to a pattern that’s been observed in people with schizophrenia, said Talma Hendler, a neuroscientist at Tel Aviv University in Israel, said at a recent event here sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“My suggestion to you is that as Nina is getting crazier and crazier, the audience experiences something like schizophrenia,” Hendler said.

Darren Aronofsky, who directed Black Swan, was onstage with Hendler, and he took this as a compliment. Aronofsky has a remarkable knack for putting his audience in the mindset of mentally unstable and anguished characters (recall the tortured mathematician in Pi, or Micky Rourke’s battered wrestler, desperate for a comeback in The Wrestler).

Read the rest of this article from Wired.

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