Cognition, psychology, media

Cognitivist Film Theory and Environmental Media

  • Cognition
    • understanding the world in order to survive in it
    • perceiving and interpreting in order to act
    • increasingly intelligence is understood as being multiple
  • Film and media makers work with/appeal to our all of our cognitive processes
    • cognitive
    • emotional
    • affective
    • and combinations thereof
  • Cognitive – appeals to reasoning processes
    • much scientific media on the environment aims here
    • e.g. the data visualization diagrams we have been looking at
    • e.g. in, Earth’s Extraordinary Journey: Spin: BBC TV, as they talk about the effect of earth’s spin on weather patterns. ~min 32 – 35(26:00 from end)
  • Emotional – establishes the viewer’s emotional relationship with the protagonists, and the goals, actions, feelings and intentions of the protagonists, typical of narrative film but also found in documentary
    • example from Levees at min34 the woman is rescued, min53 man’s mom dies, min 55 mom dies, kids rescued
  •  Affective – (in this context) not the same as emotional, but appealing instead to bodily responses, visceral reactions, level of perception underneath reasoning
    • Chris Jordan’s birds
    • Gasland when the gas tap finally explodes min 23, Gasland’s camera style
    • When the Levees Broke?  min 43 affective and emotional, min 53 emotional
    • Next week, will look at movies that aim to alter our norms of watching, aimed very much at this register
  • These different cognitive registers can work at level of both form and content
  • When the Levees Broke
    • appeals primarily to Emotional register to connect to audiences and get its messages across
      • who is it’s audience, general but I think especially African American
      • New Orleans carnival images (parades etc. pride and strong people) used in Act 1 and Act 4 particularly
    • Affect register – sheer power of storm, the water coming through buildings, bodies floating
    • Cognitive register – demands audience weave the story together – it’s not handed on a plate, not a simple truth
  • Gasland
    • appeals to Emotions – the people, the stories
    • appeals to Affect
      • the nausea-inducing camera style
      • images of beauty v. images of devastation
    • appeals to Cognition/reason – tries to explain the science without losing interest
  • The Hive
    • appeals to Cognition, information at current state of bee populations
    • appeals to Affect, trying to give humans the experience of being a bee
  • Pick a media project from this semester. Which register does it appeal to primarily – affective? cognitive? emotional? Describe some specific part of the media that shows this.
  • Which of these cognitive registers are most effective for communicating about the environment? What are the problems of any of these registers?


“The aesthetics and ethics of eco-film criticism.” David Ingram in Ecocinema Theory and Practice, eds Rust, Monani, Cubitt, 2013