Brains at the Movies

In the past, research in neuroscience has used decontextualized stimuli and highly artificial experimental designs to study the neural substrate of cognitive processes. Although this approach has been very successful, as it allows for tightly controlled experiments and straightforward interpretation of results, it has left open the question of how the brain responds to events in more naturalistic settings. In this line of research, we address this issue by investigating how brain processes unfold during movie watching.

We find that we can track emotions, engagement and preferences that follow the narrative of the presented videos. In addition, we observe that we can not only predict how well individual participants will like the movie they are watching, but also how well others will like this movie. That is, we can predict, from brain activity measured during movie-watching in a small set of participants, to what extent a different set of participants will like this movie, and even estimate how well the movie will do at the box office.


Chan H.Y., Smidts A., Schoots V.C., Sanfey A.G. & Boksem M.A.S. (2020). Decoding dynamic affective patterns to naturalistic videos with shared neural patterns. Neuroimage 216, 116618. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.116618

Chan H.Y., Smidts A., Schoots V.C., Dietvorst R.C. & Boksem M.A.S. (2019). Neural similarity at temporal pole and cerebellum predicts out-of-sample preference and recall for video stimuli. Neuroimage, 197, 391-401. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.04.076

Eijlers, E., Smidts, A. & Boksem, M.A.S. (2019). Implicit measurement of emotional experience and its dynamics. PLoS One (online)

Boksem, M.A.S. & Smidts, A. (2015). Brain responses to movietrailers predict individual preferences for movies and their population-wide commercial success. Journal of Marketing Research 52 (4), 482-492.

See also

Van Diepen, R.M., Boekel, W.E., Eijlers, E., Smidts, A., Boksem, M.A.S. The brain on movies revisited: does EEG predict box office? (working paper)

Couwenberg, L.E., Boksem, M.A.S., Dietvorst, R.C., Worm, L., Verbeke, W.J.M.I. & Smidts, A. (2017). Neural Responses to Functional and Experiential Ad Appeals: Explaining Ad Effectiveness. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 34 (2017) 355-366.