David Bordwell has an interesting essay outlining various accounts of movies in the mind: The Viewer’s Share: Models of Mind in Explaining Film:
Throughout history, filmmakers have worked with seat-of-the-pants psychology. By trial and error they have learned how to shape our minds and feelings, but usually they aren’t interested in explaining why they succeed. They leave that task to film scholars, psychologists, and others.What follows is a survey of some major ways in which people thinking about cinema have floated psychological explanations for filmmakers’ creative choices. Sometimes filmmakers reflected on their own craft; more often the task of employing psychology to illuminate the viewer’s experience fell to journalists, critics, and academics. But most of them did not conduct careful historical or empirical research. This doesn’t make their ideas worthless, but it should incline us to see them as working informally. Sometimes they connect ideas about films’ effects on viewer to wider theories of mind; sometimes they don’t. When Film Studies entered universities in the 1960s, writers became more conscious of how specific schools of psychological research accorded with the filmic phenomena they wanted to study. Explicit or implicit, vague or precise, models of mind were recruited to explain the power of cinema.
Bordwell surveys the models in historical order, from early 20th Century folk psychology to contemporary cognitive and neural theories.