About this Project

This two-year project utilizes an innovative mixed-methods approach in which the researchers combine eye tracking and interviewing to better understand how people construct meaning from violent images. The project aims to explore the role of life experiences, such as exposure to community violence, as well as individual differences, such as trait empathy or aggression, on both visual and cognitive biases in perceptions of violence. The driving research questions are: 1) How do people make meaning from violent content? 2) How do people integrate the meaning constructed from violence into their existing cultural schema? 3) Can we predict the meaning that people extract and construct from a scene of violence based on how they direct their attention while viewing the scene? A better understanding of how visual biases interact with cognitive biases in viewing violence will lead to new research in several fields across disciplinary boundaries. Though this research methodology is grounded in psychology and neuroscience, the findings will also raise interesting research questions for scholars working in other social science disciplines and the visual arts. The project seeks to engage with these other disciplines by offering possible insights on such questions as: How does violence in a piece of art or film influence narrative, meaning-making, and understanding of the piece as a whole?


You Know You Want to Look

October 15, 2020

Why are we simultaneously attracted to and repelled by horrific images? In this Chicago Tribune profile, Coltan Scrivner, a member of the research team on our Understanding the Meaning-Making of Violence project, explains the methods he is developing to measure and interpret people's responses to intensely unpleasant sights. “Morbid curiosity means there are two emotion systems going within you," he says. "One is information gathering, one is revulsion, but which one will win out?”

Fans of World-Ending Films ‘Coping Better with Pandemic’

July 8, 2020

A fascinating new study from Coltan Scrivner, a member of the research team on the Understanding the Meaning-Making of Violence project, shows that viewers of apocalyptic movies are better prepared for the psychological and practical challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.


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