Shot scale matters: The effect of close-up frequency on mental state attribution in film viewers

Katalin Balint, Janine Blessing, Brendan Rooney*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Mental state attribution, an important aspect of social cognition, refers to the verbalization of mental state references observed in another person. Fictional film narratives can elicit social cognition and mental state attribution specifically, however, little is known about the cinematographic techniques underlying this effect and their link to mental state attribution. The present experiment focuses on the role of close-up shots of the character's face in viewers’ mental state attribution, as well as in their cognitive and affective processing more generally. The online experiment (N = 495) included thirteen versions of an animated film and employed a 6 (different number of close-up shots) × 2 (facial expressions) factorial between-subject design, with an additional zero close-up control condition. Participants were randomly assigned to one version of the film and subsequently asked to describe the story (with and without a prompt for mental state attribution). In these free responses, the study used a quantitative content analytic method (with independent blind-coders) to identify the proportion of spontaneous and prompted mental state attributions (i.e. explicit mental state references to the character), as well as cognitive and affective processing employed by viewers. Additionally, we tested the moderation effect of character facial expression (in the close-up) and participant gender. Confirming our main hypothesis, close-up frequency significantly influenced spontaneous, but not prompted mental state attribution. Results indicate that increasing the number of close-ups may elicit a higher proportion of spontaneous mental state attribution up to a certain point, beyond which it may decrease the proportion of spontaneous mental state attributions. Results suggest that the effect of close-up frequency is specific to mental state attribution rather than some general effect on cognitive and affective processing of narratives.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101480
Issue numberDecember
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2020


Dive into the research topics of 'Shot scale matters: The effect of close-up frequency on mental state attribution in film viewers'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this