25 August 2021

Remember the one where …

Neurology The Back Page

What’s the most memorable moment in TV history?

If you’re a Sopranos fan like me, you’d probably say when *SPOILER* killed *SPOILER* at the end of Season Five.

On the other hand, fans of Breaking Bad might point to the shocking moment when Walt *SPOILER* those drugs dealers with his *SPOILER*.

And I’m sure all the Game of Thrones heads out there are screaming that it has to be when *SPOILER* *SPOILER* *SPOILER* *SPOILER* his aunt!

Special mention goes to this moment from Round the Twist that I wish I could forget

The one thing all those moments have in common is that they’re highly emotional, which a recent study suggests is the key ingredient in lasting memories.

Researchers from the University of Chicago monitored two groups of participants as they either watched an episode of Sherlock or listened to an audio-narrated story. The first group continuously rated their own engagement with the narratives, and the second group had their brains scanned using MRI technology. While not the most comfortable way to watch TV, it’s probably better than how I do it: in bed, in the dark, holding my phone screen a centimetre away from my face.

The data from both groups yielded extremely similar results, with most participants’ self-reported engagement and MRI scans reflecting synchronous patterns of attention. When the participants were asked to recall what they had just seen or heard in as much detail as possible, the researchers found that they mostly remembered the same emotionally compelling moments.

“Our results suggest that when two people watch a movie together, their brains may become similar, as if synchronised,” said doctoral student Hayoung Song.

“And the same brain signatures that were reflective of the degree of engagement also predicted whether people would remember certain events more often as compared to others.” Conversely, it was found that participants’ minds began to wander whenever the plot slowed down for exposition.

So whether you’re writing a TV show or presenting at a seminar, if you want your audience to stay engaged you’ve got to balance out the boring bits with some drama.

Which reminds me, there’s something I have to tell you…

I am your father!

If you see something dramatic, remember to email felicity@medicalrepublic.com.au.

Header image by Talaj

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