Perception, Projection, Participation: Film and the Invention of the Modern Mind

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The aim of this paper is to examine the interrelationship between the history of film theories and the history of modern psychology. Film and media theories, in order to illustrate audiovisual experience, often draw their conceptual tools from psychology: notions and ideas belonging to a particular psychological tradition turn, then, from having a scientific status into one that is less procedural. This gives psychology both breadth and cultural influence; by trespassing what Michel Foucault called an “epistemological threshold” an otherwise specialized discourse becomes public and wields power “in the field of knowledge”. As a matter of fact, vocabularies that originated from a precise methodological setting gradually achieve commonsensical significance while carrying traces of their own history (and sometimes even meanings that contradict or radically depart from this history). I believe that a historical overview of these psychological vocabularies and of the use film and media theories have made of them, and still make of them, is therefore necessary. This paper will briefly sketch three exemplary historical and theoretical trajectories: perception, projection and participation. 1. Perception The notion of perception will be described as being typically bound to the main theoretical paradigms that determined experimental psychology in a given period, from Nineteenth century associationism through to contemporary cognitivism. 2. Projection The romantic notion of projection gave rise, on the one hand, to the Freudian line of thought and to its apparatus descent, but on the other hand also prompted the phenomenological considerations of theorists such as Jean Mitry. 3. Participation The notion of participation has ‘mediated’ emotion theories from the very beginning of film history (think of Hugo Münsterberg and later Albert Michotte) into the work of scholars today. It is my belief that film and media theories should, accordingly, be conceived in terms of the very psychological concepts that inform them. Furthermore, film psychologies can be considered the metatheoretical tools necessary for any fully developed filmtheoretical historiography. Paradoxically, the flip side of this proposal can also be evaluated: if psychology itself historically relies on technological metaphors in order to effectively comprehend mental processes, film then reveals itself to be the major psychological metaphor of the first half of the twentieth century. In other words, it can be argued that film has long provided a description of the modern mind as attentive, projective and participative. This is exactly where we still are, at the very end.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDall'inizio, alla fine / In the Very Beginning, at the Very End
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Film Psychology
  • Film Theory
  • Kurt Lewin
  • Projection
  • modernità
  • proiezione
  • psicologia del cinema
  • teoria del cinema


Dive into the research topics of 'Perception, Projection, Participation: Film and the Invention of the Modern Mind'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this