Movies and narratives as naturalistic stimuli in neuroimaging

Iiro P. Jääskeläinen*, Mikko Sams, Enrico Glerean, Jyrki Ahveninen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleScientificpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
93 Downloads (Pure)


Using movies and narratives as naturalistic stimuli in human neuroimaging studies has yielded significant advances in understanding of cognitive and emotional functions. The relevant literature was reviewed, with emphasis on how the use of naturalistic stimuli has helped advance scientific understanding of human memory, attention, language, emotions, and social cognition in ways that would have been difficult otherwise. These advances include discovering a cortical hierarchy of temporal receptive windows, which supports processing of dynamic information that accumulates over several time scales, such as immediate reactions vs. slowly emerging patterns in social interactions. Naturalistic stimuli have also helped elucidate how the hippocampus supports segmentation and memorization of events in day-to-day life and have afforded insights into attentional brain mechanisms underlying our ability to adopt specific perspectives during natural viewing. Further, neuroimaging studies with naturalistic stimuli have revealed the role of the default-mode network in narrative-processing and in social cognition. Finally, by robustly eliciting genuine emotions, these stimuli have helped elucidate the brain basis of both basic and social emotions apparently manifested as highly overlapping yet distinguishable patterns of brain activity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117445
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021
MoE publication typeA2 Review article in a scientific journal


  • Attention
  • Emotion
  • Language
  • Memory
  • Naturalistic stimuli
  • Social cognition


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