Emotion in the Movies - FILM5770

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2022 to 2023.


This module explores the contribution made to the study of film, and related artforms such as still photography, music and multimedia, by the cluster of disciplines commonly put under the umbrella of 'cognitive theory.' Cognitive theory emerged in the 1950s with the groundbreaking linguistic research of Noam Chomsky, who demonstrated that linguistic competence depended on innate mental capacities, and that certain universal grammatical norms underlie and unify the variety of languages. Since then, research on a wide variety of aspects of human cognition has been undertaken, taking its cue from Chomsky – on emotion, visual and aural perception, metaphor, and narrative understanding, among many other areas. And since the 1980s, a distinct approach within film studies – cognitive film theory – has emerged, which sets the study of film within this context. The module examines the way in which cognitive film theorists have taken up and developed ideas from the wider tradition of cognitive research, and the debates and controversies that have subsequently arisen between cognitive film theorists and exponents of other approaches to film.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 60
Private study hours: 240
Total study hours: 300

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods:

Essay (2500 words), with requirement to use still frame grabs integrated with text (35%)
Essay (3000 words) (50%)
Seminar participation (15%)

Reassessment methods:
Like for Like

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List:

Bordwell, David. 1987. Narration in the Fiction Film. London: Routledge.
Currie, Greg. 2008. Image and Mind: Film, Philosophy and Cognitive Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dissanayake, Ellen. 1995. Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Plantinga, Carl and Greg M. Smith, 1999. Passionate Views: Film, Cognition and Emotion. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press.
Robinson, Jennifer. 2007. Deeper Than Reason: Emotion and its Role in Literature, Music, and Art. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Demonstrate a systematic understanding of a particular contemporary approach to film, usually labelled 'cognitive film theory'.
2 Place this developing body of theory in historical context – both within film studies narrowly, but also within wider developments in psychology and the philosophy of mind since the second half of the 20th century.
3 Demonstrate a systematic understanding of the precursors of the cognitive approach, including Hugo Munsterberg, Rudolf Arnheim, and the Russian Formalists.
4 Understand the deep principles of the approach as these are drawn from the broader tradition of cognitive theory, beginning with the linguistic theory of Noam Chomsky.
5 Trace the evolution of the cognitive tradition, towards a greater emphasis on embodiment, emotion, evolution and neuroscience, and the impact of these developments on cognitive film theory.
6 Demonstrate a systematic understanding of the debates between advocates of cognitivism and exponents of other approaches to the study of film.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 Demonstrate a systematic understanding in the clarity and cogency of their arguments, written and spoken.
2 Demonstrate enhanced skills in using evidence appropriately.
3 Demonstrate a critical awareness, of the need for resourcefulness and inventiveness in both research and writing.
4 Demonstrate a critical understanding and and the ability to conduct close analysis.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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