This is a review of an experiment that tests the "180º Rule" of film editing using eye movements, and finds that no evidence for negative cognitive effect is found.
The 180º Rule claims that in film editing, when showing two characters on the left and right of a shot, it would be confusing if the next shot reversed the perspective so that the characters end up on opposite sides. Filmmakers often dance around this by using over the shoulder shots that keep characters constant to their location in the frame.
The experimenters filmed two people having a conversation sitting around a table with a constant background from all angles. They cut the conversation into 22 shots and varied the number of correct vs. reversed-angle (180º violation) shots there were. This video was then shown to participants whose eye movements were tracked, measured from the "starting point" of where their eyes were located when the previous shot ended.
The results showed that eye movements were determined almost wholly by tracking who was speaking in the frame — the agent of the shot — no matter where they were located in the frame. The results showed no evidence for confusion at 180º Rule violations, nor did it show any evidence that participants were "mentally rotating" the scene to make up for those reversed angle shots.
In other words, all claims about the ill effects of 180º violations were not confirmed. They take these findings to indicate that editing rules do not cause confusion or ruin a scene's representation, and that the content of the expression overrides the way it is represented.
Germeys, F., & d’Ydewalle, G. (2005). The psychology of film: perceiving beyond the cut Psychological Research, 71 (4), 458-466 DOI: 10.1007/s00426-005-0025-3
[Originally posted on 3/16/09]