Can Movies Make You Smarter?

Can movies increase your intelligence like books do? originally appeared on Quora: The best answer to any question.

Answer by Anya Deason, Artist, Picture Framer, Trader in Static Images, on Quora.

Some people are visual learners; other people are audial learners.

Books and movies are both learning vehicles that use visual and audial devices to communicate information, but movies are direct and intense, with books providing a more detached learning cocoon. Due to the fog of emotional intensity that movies generate, fewer people analyze and dissect the visual and audial nuances of movies, which has implications for conceptual learning.

However, I've met people who treat films, like I treat static visual art, picking each sequence apart for lighting, angles, etc. They try to figure out how the filmmakers create their products. Those people probably learn more from movies, possibly augmented by reading books about movies.

Can movies make those people more intelligent: yes.

For everyone else, the themes and stories in movies might increase what some call emotional intelligence. Most films seem to play to the emotional side of thinking, not the plodding, probative, cerebral side of intelligence. This would slow down the movies' pace too much.

Psychologists say humans grasp and retain concepts better when they learn them in conjunction with strong emotion. So, if we first encounter a subject encapsulated in the emotional content of a movie, our intelligence might expand, because the movie serves as a channel to open our minds.

The more we delve into a subject in detail, struggling to resolve the underlying contradictions that every field of study has, the more intelligence increases. The nuts and bolts are found in books. Non-fiction books don't have the mandate to entertain, like movies, but if books are so boring that we close them, it defeats their purpose.

In that way, some people might learn more from movies.

Books -- like movies -- have both audial and visual components, especially when books are written by good writers who carefully weave the tone and cadence, creating a rhythmic flow that allows better absorption of information and concepts.

Like filmmakers, some writers create visual landscapes, selecting words that force imagery to spring up in the mind, and via the emotional stimulus, the writing, itself, helps us learn new words, thereby increasing our vocabulary and conceptual knowledge. Intelligence increases this way; one thing that sets man apart from other animals is the ability to link concepts with words.

Some say intelligence is an innate, biological ability that exists apart from what you study, but what good is raw intelligence without the fuel of vocabulary, visual concepts, mathematical and scientific concepts, etc.?

Words (themselves) are also visual.

Anyone who has studied for a test remembers the words on pages, using the memory of how the words were arranged on the paper or screen to recall the concepts when answering the test's questions.

But words, themselves, are not as overwhelmingly visual as static images, particularly color images, which are more visually complex and have more emotional immediacy than black-and-white drawings, for instance.

Multiply the emotional intensity of static, color images by two when viewing moving images in color. Films tend to absorb us, making the process of analytical detachment harder, though artists learn to stand back from the emotional content of paintings to ponder the tonal configurations, the color schemes, the motifs, etc.

The same is true for filmmakers and film critics.

Yet, there is an emotional detachment with words in a book that is not as distracting as the visual cacophony of a color film. The simple combination of black words on a white (or cream) page puts us into an automatic mode of intellectual abstraction, where we can examine the visual imagery, audial tones, themes, concepts and stories from an emotional distance.

Whereas, we get swept up in the action in a movie, especially a color movie with the added saturation of emotional content. That's why black-and-white films, such as "Citizen Kane," "Schindler's List," Bergman films and Woody Allen's black-and-white movies, etc., are sometimes regarded as more cerebral.

Well, the dialog adds to that reputation, too. 

Most color films are more like real life, with all the undetached, emotional confusion. In real life, it can take years to learn some of the lessons on offer admidst all the action, because the actors in real life often provoke a lot of emotion that distracts from the learning process.

It sometimes takes humans a long time detach from the emotional stew of the movie going on around us, analyzing the situations and coming up with intelligent responses, whereas books provide a detached, contemplative space to expand our minds through analysis of various types of stimuli.

A movie is a hybrid, artistic space: closer in feel to life, but still an artistic illusion.

We learn from both mediums, but those who learn more from movies are probably (1) amateurs who study films with the same detachment as art critics who study art and (2) professionals who adopt an analytical mindset that enables them to detach from the immersive, emotional components of film.

That is required to produce any type of artwork.

For everyone else, films probably spark the learning process mostly via inspiration, with people turning to the more detached mental space of books to hone their in-depth knowledge. In this era, both mediums play a role in the chain of learning that increases intelligence.

Here's a still from Citizen Kane.

Funny, they made the poster for this black-and-white film in color, probably relying on the emotional content of color to sell tickets, not for any learning purpose, though this film expands human intelligence.

Image via
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