The doubly wired spectator: Marston's theory of emotions and psychophysiological research on cinematic pleasure in the 1920s

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Abstract

In the 1920s, researchers attempted to gauge the emotional impact of motion pictures by measuring spectators' respiration and blood pressure during screenings. This paper analyzes psychophysiological spectator studies conducted by William M. Marston at Columbia University and Universal Studios and traces the roots of his methods to Hugo Münsterberg's applied psychology. Examining the model of embodied spectatorship and concepts of film aesthetics articulated in Marston's experiments exposes their ethical and epistemological implications. Further, despite his claims to objectivity, Marston's interpretation of his data reflected cultural clichés and perpetuated the universalist fallacies of biologically oriented psychology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-57
Number of pages29
JournalFilm History: An International Journal
Volume27
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

Emotion
Spectator
1920s
Pleasure
Epistemological
Spectatorship
Respiration
Blood Pressure
Motion pictures
Universal Studios
Psychology
Aesthetics
Experiment
Fallacies
Screening
Objectivity
Applied Psychology
Universalist

Keywords

  • Applied psychology
  • Audience studies
  • Embodied spectator
  • Marston
  • Münsterberg
  • Universal studios

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • History

Cite this

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abstract = "In the 1920s, researchers attempted to gauge the emotional impact of motion pictures by measuring spectators' respiration and blood pressure during screenings. This paper analyzes psychophysiological spectator studies conducted by William M. Marston at Columbia University and Universal Studios and traces the roots of his methods to Hugo M{\"u}nsterberg's applied psychology. Examining the model of embodied spectatorship and concepts of film aesthetics articulated in Marston's experiments exposes their ethical and epistemological implications. Further, despite his claims to objectivity, Marston's interpretation of his data reflected cultural clich{\'e}s and perpetuated the universalist fallacies of biologically oriented psychology.",
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