Modes of spectator awareness

Film spectatorship operates in three modes: story-awareness, medium-awareness, and world-awareness


Story-awareness mode:

When the audience experiences a film as a fully realized world

P = presentation space; R = Referent space; S = Spectator; OS = Objective Scene; PF = Perceptual field


  • Story-awareness mode constitutes the optimal viewing arrangement, at least from the perspective of the filmmakers trying to align the spectators’ experiences with those of the story’s protagonists
  • Story-awareness is a common occurrence and relatively easy to achieve, it is difficult to sustain for long periods of time


Medium-awareness mode:

When the audience allocates attention to the means of production


  • Sophisticated development of medium-awareness mode entails the achievement of analogical coherence through intertextual comparisons (e.g., comparing camera work in Hitchcock’s “Notorious” to camera work in “Psycho”).
  • In this mode, the spectators reflect on the affective style of the film, as, for example, noting a causal connection (i.e., explanatory coherence) between the slow panning shots of the opening sequence and their own feelings of anxious anticipation


World-awareness mode:

A world-aware spectator use the diegetic world of the film (or some relevant portion of it) as a reference point for reasoning about the non-diegetic world, either past, present, future, real or imagined.


  • World-awareness mode covers a range of phenomena from total momentary distractions common to filmgoing experiences to full reference point simulations
  • focus consciousness on the viewing conditions themselves

Related induced effect: Seven cognitive dimensions

(Oakley, [No date])

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