Thursday, December 20, 2007

Event segmentation in panels

I've been reading up lately on research related to how people segment events and their boundaries, particularly the brain areas associated with their processing through fMRI. In one study, they first showed people videos of events, then on subsequent trials asked them to identify fine-grained and coarse-grained event boundaries. In all trials, they found brain activation coinciding with the boundaries that were identified.

The results support a hypothesis that events are hierarchically organized, as fine and coarse grained responses in the passive viewing did yield differences. The brain activity in response to coarse grain event boundaries was stronger than for fine-grained boundaries, indicating modulation for hierarchical structure.

Reading this got me curious as to whether there are different cognitive effects for the representations within comics' panels for showing an event at different stages of its enaction. The "Marvel" style always pushed for people to be at an exaggerated state of the action, reflecting the event boundaries rather than their internal parts (I remember a vivid image from How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way with a drawing at all stages of a guy's punch).

Does the stage of the drawn action have an effect on cognitive reading? Since the Marvel exaggeration pushes the event to its boundary, does this mean that it may be processed easier, because it demarcates the segmentation as opposed to the fine-grained inner parts of the action? Or, would a drawn slice of an action create a boundary effect no matter what, since the more fine-grained parts are left out of the representation anyhow?

This would not be that hard an experiment to perform in fMRI, especially using comics as stimuli. The trick (as usual with experiments) would be creating sufficient stimuli that represent actions at different stages in their enaction. So, a punch would be shown in one condition at an exaggerated pose, and in another condition in a relatively unexaggerated pose. Would we find the same differences in fine vs. coarse grained processing of perception of event structure?

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