Does the Kuleshov Effect really Exist? Revisiting a Classic Film Experiment on Facial Expressions and Emotional Context

Daniel Barratt, Anna Cabak Rédei

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference abstract in proceedingsResearchpeer-review


    In the early 1920s, the Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov conducted an experiment that has become part of the mythology of film history. Legend has it that Kuleshov combined a close-up of the Russian actor Mozhukin’s neutral face with a variety of different emotional contexts, including a child playing with a doll, a dead woman in a coffin, and a bowl of soup; the viewers of the three sequences were reported to have perceived Mozhukin’s face as expressing happiness, sadness, and hunger/thoughtfulness respectively. It is not clear, however, whether or not the socalled “Kuleshov effect” really exists. Kuleshov’s original film footage is lost and two recent attempts at replication have produced either conflicting or unreliable results.
    The proposed paper describes an attempt to replicate Kuleshov’s original experiment using an improved experimental setup. In a behavioural and eyetracking study conducted by the authors, 36 participants were each presented with 24 film sequences. Each film sequence comprised an image of a person’s neutral face, followed by an image of an object/event, followed by another image of the person’s neutral face. In line with Kuleshov’s original experiment, we included happiness, sadness, and hunger/neutral conditions with equivalent stimuli. For each film sequence, the participant was asked: to rate the valence of the depicted person’s emotion; to rate how aroused the person appeared to be; and to identify the type of emotion that the person was feeling. The participant’s eye movements were recorded throughout the experiment using a remote eye-tracker (SMI iView X RED). A preliminary analysis of the results suggests that some sort of Kuleshov effect does in fact exist. For the different emotional conditions, the participants tended to choose the appropriate emotion more frequently than the alternative options. The answers to the valence and arousal questions also went in the expected directions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationBook of Abstracts : Sign Evolution on Multiple Time Scales. NASS VIII
    Number of pages1
    Place of PublicationAarhus
    PublisherAarhus Universitetsforlag
    Publication dateMay 2013
    Publication statusPublished - May 2013
    EventThe 8th Conference of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies. NASS VIII: Sign Evolution on Multiple Time Scales - Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark
    Duration: 29 May 201331 May 2013
    Conference number: 8


    ConferenceThe 8th Conference of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies. NASS VIII
    LocationAarhus University
    Internet address

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