The neuroscience of Gogglebox

January 12, 2015 by Martha’s Dad

imgid15057405-8103080One of the fastest growing trends on video sharing sites like YouTube is the phenomena that is the reaction video.  You know the sort of thing… a group of friends, usually equipped with beer and a pizza, point the camera at themselves as they watch a movie or TV show.

It’s kind of like the wonderful Gogglebox, but sadly without Scarlet or Leon or Dominic!  Can’t say I quite get it myself, but there you go…  An interesting book review in the Guardian on this very theme caught my eye, however, and it is one of those rare occasions when a review actually prompted me to buy!  The book in question is Flicker: Your Brain on Movies.

Written by Jeff Zacks, this is the story of why the brain responds to the cinematic and televisual image in quite the way it does.  If you’ve ever seen a punch thrown at James Bond or gone “ouch!” when Liam Neeson is hit on the head with a hammer, this is the book for you.  Flicker gives us the biology behind these reflex actions which seem to override the fact that we know the events aren’t real anyway.

Interestingly, Zacks also goes on to discuss these reflexes in the context of the reconstructive nature of memory.  We don’t recall events in full as we would watching a video or DVD.  Instead, we piece together what must have happened by joining up those fragments of events that we can remember and filling in the blanks through a process of deduction and reasoning.  The brain responses described here, it seems, compound and reinforce these effects to make them seem more real.  So, did we really learn at school about Bonnie Prince Charlie’s final escape in a little boat…or are we thinking about that old David Niven movie and simply recalling “faction”?

Fascinating stuff – looking forward to a good read!