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镜像神经元与玩家共鸣编辑本段回目录

你们体验过Telltale Games游戏《行尸走肉》吗?我曾经玩过,而且每次安装这款情景游戏总会令我震撼其引起的情感共鸣。

这款游戏则较为单调,其感染力主要来自观看角色陷入糟糕且无人相助的情境。就像许多恐怖故事,其感染方式如同过山车那般忽起忽落。其中的角色总充满失望、悲伤、紧张、后悔与绝望之情。

令人惊讶的是,我从《行尸走肉》中体会到这些情感。我十分满意每月安装后的情感体验,因为我需要重获这些感受。然而,为何会出现这种情况?《行尸走肉》这类电子游戏主要依靠哪些心理、神经与生物机制,引起玩家对画面角色的同情,并产生相似情绪?

the walking dead(from gamasutra)

the walking dead(from gamasutra)

为解决上述谜团,我们首先从意大利的猕猴实验入手。

几年前,意大利帕尔玛市的神经学家为了理解单个大脑细胞的功能,在猕猴上做实验。他们在其大脑中植入电线,勘测关于抓住食物送到小猴子口中这类功能的细胞活动。2008年,研究人员Marco Iacoboni在《Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect With Others》一书中解释,相关突破性进展形形色色,且疑点重重,但大多数时候,猴子总是连接到电线上,等待下个试验。此时走过来一个测试人员,他伸手抓起一些有趣物品(游戏邦注:比如水果,或是标记“激活释放所有猴子”的大型红色按钮),递给猴子们。

突然,该测试人员根据连接到猴子大脑的设备发现,其抓住行为激活了它们的神经元,即使它们只是看到抓住行为。这种现象十分奇怪,由于大脑细胞通常较为独特,还没有人知道执行动作或是观看别人采取同样动作会激活神经元。而此时,猴子们却有反应,先前激活的神经元只与机械动作有关,而且它们只是静坐观看。

因此,我们首次发现行为中的镜像神经元,它与大脑中的其它神经细胞不同。而且不少研究人员(游戏邦注:包括之前提到的UCLA精神病学与行为科学教授Dr. Marco Iacoboni)相信,它是引发我们同情《行尸走肉》中Lee与Clementine处境的重要因素。

Iacoboni通过邮件告知:“镜像神经元属于运动细胞。它们会向肌肉发送信号,移动身体,采取动作,比如拿起一杯咖啡,微笑等。然而,它们又有别于运动细胞,因为前者还能通过看到他人行为激活。”比如,无论是我抓住Xobx控制器,还是看到好友做出此动作都会激活镜像神经元模仿抓住行为。“即使我们一动不动,只是观察他人移动也会激活该神经元,而后可能会在大脑中进行模仿。”

由于好奇该现象的运作模式,Iacoboni与其同事展开一番研究,利用精密设备监视被测者在观察不同面部表情后的大脑活动。不出所料,此时镜像神经元区域与边缘系统(游戏邦注:大脑中与情感相关的部分)通通被激活,简单来说,只要看到面部表情,便会激活镜像神经元,好像被测者也在做出同种表情,接着触发大脑情绪中心的活动,结果被测者就会真切体会到这种情绪。

Iacoboni解释道:“这种过程几乎不费力气,立马会让我们体会到他人的情绪。这也是我们沉浸在电影与小说情节的原由。”当我们看到《行尸走肉》中,Lee Everett与其它角色面露厌恶情绪时,我们的表情镜像神经元会被激活,好像自己也露出这种神色。接着通过内部模仿,我们会体会到某种程度的情绪,从而理解他人的感受。

我想,《行尸走肉》善于引发情感共鸣的一个原因便在于此:它会频繁展示出角色的各种表情,接着我们会投入大量精力识记并信以为真。因此并不是僵尸引发我们的恐慌感。而是像Kenny在听到Lee述说自己正艰难地在家人之间作抉择时露出的神情。

the walking dead(from gamasutra)

the walking dead(from gamasutra)

该作创意总监Sean Vanaman表示:“我们投入大量时间创作角色的面部动作。在编写首个情景后,我们列出角色在故事中的所有情绪,而后制作出相应面部动作。并贯穿在整个游戏中。”

然而,他们在看到表情后不仅会进行模仿。如之前提到的,Iacoboni与其同事在2004年的研究中发现,有些被测者还会做出模仿动作,且内心活动逐渐增多。由此可见,积极模仿表情更有助于我们产生共鸣与理解,其中部分涉及到“面部反馈假设”研究。比如,在2005年,研究人员Paula Niedenthal让两组被测者观看他人表情。

但是,其中一组需咬住一把铅笔,这便严重限制他们模拟他人表情的能力。结果,咬笔一组的面部情绪无多大变化,因为缺乏模仿限制了他们识记别人表情,体会其情绪,并复杂的能力。

总之,我认为此次试验的寓意在于,如果你真的想从《行尸走肉》中获得最佳效果,紧闭双眼或从食指间窥探会抑制你模仿角色表情的能力。这时,镜像神经元就难以让你复制角色陷入厄运时的表情。(本文为游戏邦gamerboom.com编译,作者:Jamie Madigan)

The Walking Dead, mirror neurons, and empathy

by Jamie Madigan

Psychologist Jamie Madigan examines the neuroscience of one reason why The Walking Dead is so effective at eliciting empathy from players.

Oh man, have you all been playing The Walking Dead from Telltale Games? I have, and with every installment of this episodic game I’m newly impressed by how hard it yanks on my emotions.

Like the comic that spawned it, the game is unapologetically bleak and its appeal comes largely from watching characters getting crammed into really bad situations from which some of them just won’t emerge — unless they do so groaning and hungering for brains. Like many horror stories it’s appealing the way a roller coaster is appealing. The characters are full of despair, heartbreak, anxiety, regret, and desperation.

And the amazing thing is that the game gets me to feel all those emotions too. I’m glad that it comes in monthly installments, because I need the time between episodes to recover. But why is that? By what psychological, neurological, and biological mechanisms do video games like The Walking Dead get us to not only empathize with characters onscreen, but also share their emotions?

For the answer let us start, as we so often do, with tiny Italian monkeys.

Years ago, neuroscientists in the Italian city of Parma were conducting experiments on macaque monkeys in order to understand the functions of individual brain cells. This involved inserting wires into the brain so that the researchers could detect activity in cells related to functions like grasping and bringing food to little monkey mouths. As researcher Marco Iacoboni notes in his 2008 book Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect With Others, stories of a particular breakthrough are varied and apocryphal, but most of them involve a monkey wired up and awaiting his next round of experiments. In walks a researcher, who then reaches out and grasps something of interest to the monkey like a piece of fruit or a big red button marked “ACTIVATE TO FREE ALL MONKEYS.”

Suddenly the researcher noticed that according to the equipment hooked up to the monkey’s brain, neurons were firing that were associated with grasping motions, even though the animal had only SEEN something being grasped. This was odd, because normally brain cells are very specialized and nobody knew of any neurons that would activate both when performing an action or when seeing someone else perform the same action. Yet here the monkey was, blithely firing neurons previously only associated with performing motor actions while just sitting still and watching.

Thus was the first observation of a mirror neuron in action, a brain cell set apart from many of its peers and which are also present in delicious human brains. It turns out that many researchers like the aforementioned Dr. Marco Iacoboni, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UCLA, believe that mirror neurons are important for our ability to empathize with things we see, like the plight of poor Lee and Clementine in The Walking Dead.

“Mirror neurons are motor cells,” Iacoboni tells me via e-mail. “That is, they send signals to our muscles to move our body, make actions, grab a cup of coffee, smile, and so on. However, they differ from other motor cells because they are also activated by the sight of somebody else’s action.” For example, a mirror neuron for grasp is fired when I grab an Xbox controller, but also when I see my friend grabbing a controller. “By being active even when we do not move at all and simply watch other people moving, they sort of create an inner imitation of the actions of others inside us.”

Curious about exactly how this phenomenon works, Iacoboni and his colleagues conducted a study (Carr, Iacoboni, & Dubeau, 2003) where they used very expensive equipment to monitor the brain activity of subjects who watched images of faces expressing different emotions. As expected, mirror neuron areas activated when people saw the expressions, and so did the limbic system, a portion of the brain known to be related to emotions. In short, upon seeing facial expressions, mirror neurons fired as if the subjects were making those expressions themselves, then triggered activity in the brain’s emotional centers so that subjects could actually feel the emotion being imitated.

Iacoboni notes that this process “puts us immediately in ‘somebody else’s shoes,’ in an effortless, almost automatic way. This is why we get so immersed in the movies we watch and the novels we read.” When we see Lee Everett or any of the other Walking Dead characters grimace in disgust, our mirror neurons for grimacing activate as if we were making that expression ourselves. And because of that inner imitation, we actually do feel the emotion to some degree and thus understand what the other is feeling.

I think this is one of the reasons why The Walking Dead is so good at eliciting emotions: it frequently shows us the faces of the characters and lets us see all the work put into creating easily recognizable and convincing facial expressions. And so it’s not the zombies that elicit dread in us. Instead it’s things like the face that Kenny makes when Lee tells him to make a hard decision about his family.

“We spend a ton of time on the facial animations for the characters in the game,” The Walking Dead’s creative lead Sean Vanaman said when I asked him about this. “After writing the first episode we start to make lists of the type of things characters are going to feel in the story and then start to generate isolated facial animations to convey those moods and emotions. Those are then used throughout the game.”

But it’s not just seeing an expression and imagining ourselves mirroring it. In the 2004 study cited above, Iacoboni and his colleagues also had some subjects physically imitate the expressions they were seeing and the cascade of mental activity increased. This suggests that actively imitating expressions helps us better empathize and understand, and it’s part of a fairly established line of research called the “facial feedback hypothesis.” For example, in one 2005 study researcher Paula Niedenthal had two groups of subjects look at the facial expressions of other people.

One group, however, was made to hold a pencil between their teeth, which severely limited their ability to mimic the expressions they saw. The result was that those clenching the pencils in their mouths were less able to detect emotional changes in the faces they observed because the lack of mimicry short circuited their brain’s ability to replicate facial expressions, feel the emotions themselves, and then recognize it in others.

So, I suppose the moral of all this is that if you really want to get the full effect from The Walking Dead, don’t cover your eyes and peek between your fingers in a way that inhibits your ability to mimic the expressions you see on screen. Your mirror neurons don’t appreciate that when they’re trying to get your to replicate expressions of crippling, existential doom.(source:gamasutra)


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