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Hollywood Keeps You Entertained By Using Chaos Theory

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What is it about some movies that keeps you entertained, while other movies just can't seem to hold your attention? Why do old movies sometimes just "feel" different from newer movies? The answer, according to cognitive psychologist James Cutting may lie in chaos theory.

Cutting, along with two of his graduate students, Jordan DeLong and Christina Nothelfer, from Cornell University, recently published a paper in the journal Psychological Science, in which they deconstructed, frame by frame, 150 films from from the last 75 years, including equal numbers of action, adventure, animation, comedy, and drama films.

Cutting speculated that there may be a mathematical pattern - like the golden ratio so highly valued by Renaissance painters - that underlies effective filmmaking. The 1/f fluctuation, a concept taken from chaos theory, is also a pattern that occurs naturally in the human mind, as well as in music and economics. The researchers found that the shot-by-shot organization of films made since 1980 were more likely to approach that 1/f pattern. That is, the decisions made by directors, cinematographers, and film editors in setting the pace of the film synced up more closely with the natural patterns of human attention. This may explain why older "movies" feel less natural, and why it seems easier to lose oneself in a modern Hollywood blockbuster.