Monday, September 24, 2012

New article: Framing attention in Japanese and American comics

I'm pleased to say that I now have a new article out about the cross-cultural differences between American comics—both Mainstream and Indy comics—and Japanese manga:

"Framing attention in Japanese and American comics: Cross-cultural differences in attentional structure."

I'm particularly excited about this paper, because my co-authors are two former undergraduates at Tufts University—Amaro Taylor-Weiner and Suzi Grossman—who worked very hard and took this project on.

This paper shows further evidence that the panels in Japanese manga structure space differently than the   panels in American comics, regardless of genre. We argue that these patterns connect to deeper differences in cognition that have been found between Americans and Asians (here, Japanese specifically).

Download the new article (pdf)

Download my previous article on cross-cultural differences (pdf)

Full abstract:
Research on visual attention has shown that Americans tend to focus more on focal objects of a scene while Asians attend to the surrounding environment. The panels of comic books— the narrative frames in sequential images—highlight aspects of a scene comparably to how attention becomes focused on parts of a spatial array. Thus, we compared panels from American and Japanese comics to explore cross-cultural cognition beyond behavioral experimentation by looking at the expressive mediums produced by individuals from these cultures. This study compared the panels of two genres of American comics (Independent and Mainstream comics) with mainstream Japanese “manga” to examine how different cultures and genres direct attention through the framing of figures and scenes in comic panels. Both genres of American comics focused on whole scenes as much as individual characters, while Japanese manga individuated characters and parts of scenes. We argue that this framing of space from American and Japanese comic books simulate a viewer’s integration of a visual scene, and is consistent with the research showing cross-cultural differences in the direction of attention.

ResearchBlogging.orgCohn, Neil, Taylor-Weiner, Amaro, and Grossman, Suzanne (2012). Framing attention in Japanese and American comics: Cross-cultural differences in attentional structure Frontiers in Psychology - Cultural Psychology, 3, 1-12 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00349

Monday, September 17, 2012

Prehistoric animation?

One of my research assistants from Tufts, Patrick Bender, sent along this link to an article that claims prehistoric cave paintings from 30,000 years ago actually featured animated figures. The recently published research discusses two types of "animation" found in cave paintings.

First, they claim that the presence of multiple limbs, heads, etc. in cave paintings gave the sense of animated movement when illuminated by the flickering of torchlight. In Reinventing Comics, Scott McCloud argued that this multiplicity in cave paintings implied motion as well, though he didn't jump all the way to claiming it was animation (as in the video below).

I definitely believe that this multiplicity would have implied motion, but the real question is whether it would be fully "animated" by the flicker of torchlight, as they seem to argue. I could understand how torchlight would give the sense of a strobe light, allowing a person to shift attention to different parts of the image, thereby giving the sense of motion.

Nevertheless, I would like to see a video that at least simulates this to really believe it fully. The movie above that makes the case for this nicely shows how the pieces of the pictures could create this effect. However, the movie deletes portions of the image at every step in the animation. A horse with multiple heads on the wall wouldn't do this. It would simply have all the heads all the time, and a viewer would have to try to shift their focus to the other parts throughout the flickering of light.

That's not to say that the animation effect can't happen under these conditions. I'd just like to see a "torchlight" demonstration before I believe it fully.

Their other example I feel is much more compelling though. They claim to have evidence of early "thaumatropes" made of bone, which are small discs that show figures on either side. When spun with a string, they create the illusion of motion (like this animated gif). Toys like these were popular in the Victorian era, but they claim these prehistoric individuals came up with them thousands of years prior. 

These seem a lot more probable as early animation, especially given their evidence that the bone discs had figures on both sides and holes in the middle where string could have been placed. The fact that these more convincing devices supposedly accompanied the cave walls perhaps gives more validity to the animation on the wall paintings as well.

At the very least, I take these examples to be far more credible than other examples of ancient animation that have been reported over the years.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Website down...

You've probably noticed the frequency of my posts increasing. Now that I've finished grad school, driven across America, and flown back from Japan, I'm settling into my postdoctoral fellowship at UCSD's Center for Research in Language, where I will continue my work looking at the cognition of sequential image comprehension.

For the blog, I'm hoping to keep up a pace of about a post a week. In the weeks to come, I look to be having a couple new articles posted, some possible press, as well as a "return to basics" for a few posts. I'll be recapping some of the basic principles and organization underlying this research.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Lecture on comics and psychology

Here's a lecture by psychologist Barbara Tversky about the understanding of events, spatial cognition, and comics. It's a bit long (an hour) but worth watching. (The parts explicitly about comics start around 25:20. Here's an alternate link where you can jump direct to certain slides)

I've known Barbara and her student John Bresman for many years so it was fun to see. She covers a lot of ground in terms of general cognitive principles at work in the comprehension of sequential images, particularly the more poetic and creative uses of sequential images. I've talked about several of these principles under different terms on this blog and in my papers, and similar lists have been made in various scattered articles for years.

The part of the talk I found most interesting was towards the end, where she describes a recent experiment looking at the depiction of action in panels from comics around the world. On the whole they found that comics from China and America had more action than those from Japan or Italy. The comparison here is that Chinese and English are both languages that can combine the description of an action and the manner by which it happens into one single verb, while Japanese and Italian do not combine these into one verb (i.e. 'to swagger' vs. 'to walk in a swaggering way').

I've wanted to do a study on this comparison for awhile, so I was glad to see the data. It is part of a broader interest that I have in the relationship between thought, verbal language, and visual language.