Baseball Toaster Aesthetics Blog
Monthly archives: March 2007


Why Do We Still Feel Suspense With Repeat Viewings?
2007-03-09 10:53
by Ken Arneson

Now we're talking. This is the kind of analysis I want see more of.

David Bordwell breaks down some previous non-neuro-based theories, and then gets into the true meat of the problem. He looks at how the brain processes information, to explain an artistic phenomenon we experience. In this case, Bordwell explores why we can see a suspenseful movie a second time, and still experience suspense.

I'll add one thing to the article: the concept of conditioning. Learning in the brain doesn't work like an on-off switch. It takes repetition for something to stick, for us to become conditioned to a stimulus, and to begin to expect it. So when we watch a film a second time, we're only slightly conditioned to the stimulus (the film), and so we can still be surprised. If you watch it a tenth time, or a twentieth, you're probably not going to feel very much suspense.

The very best works of art manage, somehow, to defeat the conditioning phenomenon. Great art gives you something surprising even after the twentieth viewing. That's very hard to do, which is why greatness is so rare.