If you've seen "Silence of the Lambs," you probably remember the scene where the lights go out on Jodie Foster and the unseen Buffalo Bill reaches out to her.
That's because at that moment, your brain was probably at its peak of engagement, according to a study by a team of researchers from The City College of New York and Columbia University.
"Peak correlations of neural activity across viewings can occur in remarkable correspondence with arousing moments of the film," the researchers wrote in the journal "Moreover, a significant reduction in neural correlation occurs upon a second viewing of the film or when the narrative is disrupted by presenting its scenes scrambled in time."
Tense scenes present prime conditions for peak brain activity. They usually contain at least two of the three components identified by the researchers as most engaging: powerful visual cues, ominous music, and meaningful scene changes.
To make the correlation, the researchers hooked 20 subjects up to EEG devices (electroencephalography measures electrical activity across the scalp) as they showed scenes from three films: Alfred Hitchcock's "Bang! You're Dead," Sergio Leone's "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," and an amateur film of people walking on a college campus as a control.
They found especially high neural correlation during a close-up on the gun in "Bang! You're Dead." They found less neural correlation during the second viewings and during viewings with out-of-sequence scenes.
Next up: the researchers hope to locate where in the brain the response occurs.
Summer thriller, anyone?
Photo: Jodi Foster and Anthony Hopkins in "Silence of the Lambs." Credit: Orion Pictures