From December’s Issue: Film, Depression, and Anxiety

In today’s post, we are pleased to preview the work of James Carney: Culture and mood disorders: the effect of abstraction in image, narrative and film on depression and anxiety. In this open access article, Dr. Carney talks about our engagement with cultural representation. To hear more, listen to his audio clip, and read a short summary below!

Short Summary:  Many people use cultural representations to help themselves feel better when anxious or depressed. For some, this might involve reading a novel; for others, a trip to an art gallery or the movies might do the trick. But do the stories we read, the pictures we look at, and the movies we see affect us in the same ways? In this article, I make the case the level of abstraction in a cultural object might determine the effect it has on anxious or depressed individuals. Using research from cognitive psychology and information theory, I argue that concrete, realistic representations will help alleviate depression, while abstract, schematic representations may work better for anxiety. I back up my claims with reference to experimental results on the therapeutic value of fiction, art, and cinema for distressed individuals.

A head shot of James with fall color int he background. He wears a short beard and salt-and-pepper close-cropped hair. He smiles slightly., More about James Carney

James Carney is Associate Professor at the London Interdisciplinary School. His research sits at the intersection of interpretive, experimental, and computational methods, and he has published widely across the humanities and quantitative social sciences. At present, he is interested in the application of methods from deep learning to the wider cultural record in support of mental health intervention. Previous to his current appointment, he was Wellcome Trust Fellow at Brunel University London and Marie Curie Fellow at the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford. He is also founding director of Texture AI, an NLP-focused data science company.

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