Cynthia Cabañas

PhD student


Email address:

Twitter: @cynthiacabanas



Dr Tim J Smith – Birkbeck, University of London

Dr Atsushi Senju – Birkbeck, University of London


Research interests

How do we understand and share the experiences of different characters in a movie? Similar to real life, film viewers attribute mental states to movie characters through a process known as Theory of Mind (ToM) and frequently emotionally engage with them responding with appropriate affects, such as empathy or sympathy, among others. Although film-watching is inherently a social activity, sociocognitive demands have been neglected in prior cognitive investigations of film narrative comprehension.

Using a range of behavioural, eye-tracking, physiological and neuroimaging methods, this PhD project aims to examine how and whether viewers can systematically and continuously track and maintain film characters’ (true or false) beliefs as well as ignorance. It will also explore how they track the emotional implications of these beliefs and how this influences what pay attention to. Secondly, the project will investigate how mentalizing processes may be influenced by (a) cinematic formal features (e.g., shot scale or music) and (b) individual differences such as atypical ToM development as it is common in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

This PhD project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.



Cabañas C., Senju A., and Smith T.J. (2023) The audience who knew too much: investigating the role of spontaneous theory of mind on the processing of dramatic irony scenes in film. Front. Psychol. 14:1183660. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1183660 

Cabañas, Cynthia, Atsushi Senju, and Tim J. Smith. "Dramatic Irony: A Case Study in the Mutual Benefit of Combining Social Neuroscience with Film Theory." Projections 16.1 (2022): 84-104.



PhD in Psychology – Film Cognition

Birkbeck, University of London

October 2020 to present


Dual Masters MSc Brain and Mind Sciences

1st Year: University College London (UCL)

2nd Year: Université Pierre et Marie Curie / École Normale Supérieure Paris (UPMC/ENS)

September 2017 – September 2019


MA in Neuropsychology

Universidad Camilo José Cela (Madrid, Spain)

September 2015 - September 2016


BSc in Psychology

University Complutense of Madrid (UCM)

Neuropsychology Itinerary; Bilingual Modality (English-Spanish)

September 2011 - June 2015


Internships and Research Assistant Positions

Research Assistant at Motivation Brain Behavior lab (Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Epinière / Institute of Brain and Spinal Cord), Paris, France

Under supervision of Dr. Jean Daunizeau and Dr. Emmanuel Mandonnet                   

September 2019 – August 2020

Neuropsychology Intern at CEADAC / Centro de Referencia Estatal de Atención al Daño Cerebral (State Care Centre for Brain Injury), Madrid, Spain                   

April  2016 –  April 2017

Neuropsychology Intern at Hospital Clínico San Carlos, Madrid, Spain                    

April 2015 – June 2015


Awards and Funding

ESRC +3 PhD studentship (2020 – 2023): Fully funded studentship to cover PhD fees (£4,327), living expenses (£17k per annum), and research expenses (£2,250).  

ESRC Advanced Quantitative Methods (2020): funding towards gaining skills in quantitative methods (£2,250).

"La Caixa" Scholarships for Postgraduate Studies in European Universities (2017-2019): Fully funded studentship to cover MSc fees (£16,000), living expenses (£17k per annum), and other travel expenses


Travel Grants

Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image (SCSMI), 2023: Received a travel grant that funded travel and accommodation expenses for participation in the annual conference. 

Baltic NeuroCine Conference, 2022: Awarded a travel grant which covered travel and accommodation costs for the duration of the conference.