The impact of continuity editing in narrative film on event segmentation

Joseph P. Magliano, Jeffrey M. Zacks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

164 Scopus citations


Filmmakers use continuity editing to engender a sense of situational continuity or discontinuity at editing boundaries. The goal of this study was to assess the impact of continuity editing on how people perceive the structure of events in a narrative film and to identify brain networks that are associated with the processing of different types of continuity editing boundaries. Participants viewed a commercially produced film and segmented it into meaningful events, while brain activity was recorded with functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We identified three degrees of continuity that can occur at editing locations: edits that are continuous in space, time, and action; edits that are discontinuous in space or time but continuous in action; and edits that are discontinuous in action as well as space or time. Discontinuities in action had the biggest impact on behavioral event segmentation, and discontinuities in space and time had minor effects. Edits were associated with large transient increases in early visual areas. Spatial-temporal changes and action changes produced strikingly different patterns of transient change, and they provided evidence that specialized mechanisms in higher order perceptual processing regions are engaged to maintain continuity of action in the face of spatiotemporal discontinuities. These results suggest that commercial film editing is shaped to support the comprehension of meaningful events that bridge breaks in low-level visual continuity, and even breaks in continuity of spatial and temporal location.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1489-1517
Number of pages29
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • Event comprehension
  • Event segmentation
  • Film comprehension
  • Mental models
  • Situation models
  • fMRI


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