Description: If you watched Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker in The Dark Knight (Batman) film you saw an amazing piece of acting – of method acting. Ledger was a method actor meaning that he got into his character by essentially becoming the Joker and, it is said, stayed there on and off set throughout the entire time that filming was going on. For all intents and purposes, he was the Joker. Now it is one thing to say that, based on what it looks like to see Ledger as the Joker or other actors as other characters from the outside as observers but what actually goes on within the brains of method actors when they take on a character? Sort your own hypotheses out and then listen to the radio story in which a researcher who has utilized MRI scans to look into the brains of actors in character and as themselves.
Source: Actors’ brains have different activity patterns when they’re in character, Quirks and Quarks, CBC Radio.
Date: March 16, 2019
Photo Credit: Reuters
Article Link: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks/march-16-2019-inside-actors-brains-inactive-ingredients-aren-t-super-solar-storms-and-more-1.5056201/actors-brains-have-different-activity-patterns-when-they-re-in-character-1.5056218
So, when they are in character, the parts of the brain that actors use when asked questions about their “real” selves when out of character were less active. The researcher suggests that acting may involve a loss of self. In addition, a brain area called the precuneus is activated when the actors are in character. This area of the brain seems to be involved in the division of attention between two things, in this case between the “real” self and the character the actor is portraying, essentially splitting consciousness in order to play the role but also to continue to keep track of one’s other local professional responsibilities (like where the camera is etc.). While this is interesting in an of itself, for me at least, it peaks curiosity about what this line of research might suggests about how conditions like multiple personality or dissociative disorder and fugue state amnesia might be found to be mapped within the brain. Now there are some interesting research “next steps”!!
Questions for Discussion:
- What is method acting?
- What is involved in an actor playing another character, in terms of how that task might be mapped onto (function within) the brain?
- What are some areas of human self-functioning (or forms of mal-functioning associated with mental disorders or conditions) that might be linked with this research on actors’ brains while they are in character?
References (Read Further):
Brown, S., Cockett, P., and Yuan, Y. (2019). The neuroscience of Romeo and Juliet: An fMRI study of acting. Royal Society Open Science 6: 181908. http://neuroarts.org/pdf/acting_fMRI.pdf
Yuan, Y., Major-Giradin, J., and Brown, S. (2018). Storytelling is intrinsically mentalistic: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study of narrative production across modalities. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 30: 1298-1314. http://neuroarts.org/pdf/storytelling_fmri.pdf
Brown, S. (2017). Proto-acting as a new concept: Personal mimicry and the origins of role playing. Humanities 6:43. http://neuroarts.org/pdf/protoacting.pdf
Cavanna, A. E., & Trimble, M. R. (2006). The precuneus: a review of its functional anatomy and behavioural correlates. Brain, 129(3), 564-583. https://academic.oup.com/brain/article-pdf/129/3/564/1102974/awl004.pdf
Margulies, D. S., Vincent, J. L., Kelly, C., Lohmann, G., Uddin, L. Q., Biswal, B. B., … & Petrides, M. (2009). Precuneus shares intrinsic functional architecture in humans and monkeys. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(47), 20069-20074. https://www.pnas.org/content/106/47/20069.long
Markowitsch, H. J. (2003). Psychogenic amnesia. Neuroimage, 20, S132-S138. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/537c/e01d6accac3c949e2be2c6073636d504eff2.pdf
Irle, E., Lange, C., Weniger, G., & Sachsse, U. (2007). Size abnormalities of the superior parietal cortices are related to dissociation in borderline personality disorder. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 156(2), 139-149. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/db1d/2e309ec7929e4ca522a3bfcb7a68ba2dd257.pdf
Geuze, E., Vermetten, E., de Kloet, C. S., & Westenberg, H. G. (2007). Precuneal activity during encoding in veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Progress in brain research, 167, 293-297. http://www.academia.edu/download/45306352/Geuze_E_Vermetten_E_de_Kloet_CS_et_al._P20160503-10644-e7svzf.pdf