In his book Literature and the Brain, Professor Norman N. Holland details how we may respond so deeply in both creating and experiencing literature – novels, plays, poems, tv and movies – and the neuropsychology underlying our often intense engagement with stories and characters.
See a video below.
He writes of one iconic film: “The cute blond starlet, looking for her missing friend, opens a creaking door. She walks down a dark hall. And we’re thinking, Don’t go there! Don’t go there!
“And then the maniac in the hockey mask lunges out from a dark corner, brandishing a chain saw. You jump and I jump and all the people around us jump.
“Yet you and I and all of us know deep down that the blond and the maniac are just light flickering on a screen. We still jump—why?”
[The photo is Jessica Biel in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003). Another actor in the film, Erica Leerhsen, had an interesting comment: "My biggest fear would be life... or definitely, myself. I think that's at the core of most horror movies or even movies like The Wizard of Oz. You think you have to go through this thing, but you end up having to face yourself."]
Holland comments on another primal story:
“Seeing Casablanca for the umpteenth time, we come to the final scene. Will Humphrey Bogart put Ingrid Bergman, the woman he loves, on the plane with her heroic but dull husband who needs her?
“Every time I wonder, though I know perfectly well he will.
“Since Aristotle, people thinking about literature have encountered such psychological puzzles. But literary theorists from earlier times have faced the limitations of the psychology of those earlier times.
“Only in the last century have we had a ‘scientific’ psychology. Only in the last few decades have we had a neurology with which we can observe actual brain systems.”
Book: Literature and the Brain, by Norman N. Holland.
Sites related to Norm Holland:
IPSA (the Institute for Psychological Study of the Arts).
PSYART, the online discussion group for the psychology of the arts.
Some related Talent Development Resources pages: