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A cognitive schematic analysis of film

Gregory Hale


This research used two short films to investigate whether schema theory has value for researching and designing film experiences.

The first study used the neutrally rated Ice Cream Dream to qualitatively analyse talk from ten viewers, for research and design contributions based on schema theory. The analysis was systematic and driven by the data, with bottom up analysis iteratively structured by emergent schematic categories. The viewers’ talk indicated confusion about the film content and included talk on schematic structure in the film. The second study developed a method of schematic analysis to investigate schemas in a case study in good structure, The Wrong Trousers. The film’s content was systematically logged, with ‘aggregate schemas’ and ‘re-interpretive schemas’ emerging as structuring the film, with the schemas causally linked together. The third study use schematic analysis to investigate Ice Cream Dream, both as a comparison to The Wrong Trousers and for research and design contributions from schema theory. Aggregate schemas were only partially evident, with content weakly linked causally or unlinked. The fourth study examined if non-interview based viewers’ talk would contribute additional insights and design implications from schema theory, using 65 online movie reviews of The Wrong Trousers. Systematic analysis revealed strong positive reactions focused on aggregate schemas plus two high salience elements (the techno trousers and the penguin). This research has revealed that schema theory is powerful in identifying research based insights into film of value to film researchers and professionals. Twenty three design implications resulted from the four studies, revealing that schema theory is powerful in design terms. The further research, as correctives to the weakness of the research, will include schema based studies of other films, the development of a systematic Schematic Analysis Design Method (SADM) and the development of a schematic modeling language for film.


Publication typePhdThesis
InstitutionUniversity of York
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