The Cinematic Guide to Psychology


Psychology is perhaps one of the most underrated subjects as well as a relatively new field of science. Yet, since we live in a world of personalities, emotions, and human interaction, it is exceedingly useful in almost any profession and has changed people’s lives for the better because of it (I mean, who can live without therapists?). Still, though psychology has been a science relatively recently, it has always existed and people have always used it throughout history as well as in fiction itself. A good example of psychology at work is in the Bible when King Solomon orders a swordsman to cut a baby in two just to get an emotional reaction from one of the two women fighting over it. A good psychological example in fiction is Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale’s decline in The Scarlet Letter in which his guilt over knocking up Hester Prynne leads to him suffering some psycho-induced illness and Hester’s vengeful and crazy ex-husband Roger Chillingworth knows it and  does his dirty work on him. Nevertheless, while writers may have some psychological understanding, they aren’t the leading authorities on it and Hollywood is not the place you should rely on the latest information of the human mind. In fact, much of the psychology you see in movies is based on knowledge that has been repeatedly debunked and deemed out of date. Not to mention, human behavior is very unpredictable and everyone experiences the world differently, including people with mental disorders. I mean it’s complicated. Yet, people believe it. Here is a list of supposed psychological knowledge everyone gets from movies.

1. Dissociative Identity Disorder (multiple personalities) exists and usually consists of people having either a bunch of personalities or Jekyll and Hyde dynamic. (Actually it’s exceedingly rare in real life to the point many First World countries refuse to recognize it as a disorder.)

2. All serial killers are psychopaths that are out of touch with reality and completely irrational. (Though psychopathic serial killers do exist {like Ted Bundy}, most psychopaths aren’t serial killers {most live completely normal lives but are more likely to commit and get away with white collar crime though}nor all serial killers psychopaths {though many are but are only responsible for 60% of serious violent crime in the US}. Not to mention, despite being narcissistic, anti-social, irresponsible, impulsive, charming but lacking emotional depth, they are completely in touch with reality and highly rational. Also, being out of touch with reality and irrational is psychosis and usually doesn’t make a person dangerous in society and is usually a symptom of another disorder. Hollywood tends to use both interchangeably.)

3. People with Asperger’s Syndrome are socially awkward with high intelligence but are assholes who can’t feel empathy or understand emotions. (People with Asperger’s may have social difficulties with nonverbal social cues and many may be highly intelligent, but they usually go to great lengths to inadvertently hurt anyone so they do care how other people are feeling. More often than not, they just can’t tell.)

4. Dyslexics have terrible writing skills, see jumbled words, and can’t read past a fourth grade level. (Dyslexia is actually a spectrum disorder while some dyslexics may be functionally illiterate, many are simply bad at reading or phonics. Most shown in movies are only severe cases. Also, while many dyslexics are bad at writing, it’s a side affect and many do go to great pains to make sure their grammar and spelling is up to snuff.)

5. Bipolar sufferers go through rapid cycles of extreme mood swings at a constant rate whether be weeks, days, or hours. (Actually most bipolar sufferers would experience such symptoms maybe a few times a year or at times of great stress. This kind imore corresponds to a Borderline Personality Disorder.)

6. Panic is usually induced during disasters and it’s best people should be told not to. (It’s very possible to have a panic attack in their own home since it’s induced by a sense of potential entrapment, a sense of helplessness, and a sense of profound isolation. Also, it’s best not to tell people not to panic during disasters because it makes their situation worse.)

7. You can easily pretend insanity. (Most legally insane people usually don’t know it but may suspect something may be wrong with them. Still, if you try to be insane, most will see through your act like most of the M*A*S*H 4077 sees through Klinger’s cross dressing scheme to get a Section 8.)

8. Having an unhealthy body image with help from the media can quickly lead to a life-threatening eating disorder. (While real life-threatening eating disorders do exist, they are still very rare, have been around longer than Hollywood, and usually are seen as an expression of complex psychological and emotional problems. Most people aren’t susceptible to such extreme behavior patterns for any significant length of time. So while having an unhealthy body image may help lead to a life-threatening eating disorder, it’s usually not the only factor and they are usually develop over a much longer period of time. Still, this is not to say having an unhealthy body image is a good thing or that the media is completely harmless projecting them.)

9. Uncovering painful repressed memories through therapy will help people come to terms with their traumas causing mental problems. (This “uncovering” repressed memories is seen as a scientifically and ethically dubious practice once popular with incest cases and might’ve sent innocent people to jail.)

10. Assertiveness training turns people into self-centered jerk or lunatics with short tempers before going back to normal with no repercussions from their behavior. Also, this usually involves hypnosis or reading a book. (This usually involves multiple sessions with a trained psychologist and learning about diplomatic ways to stand up for yourself and get your fair share.)

11. All responses to trauma are PTSD and usually requires the key to re-experience the episode for an individual to remember and understand before quickly returning to normal. (PTSD is a disorder requiring time to develop with problems that arise when the trauma isn’t dealt with or acknowledged the first time. Also, triggering is usually not needed since they usually remember what happened, they just can’t stop forgetting. Also, treatment for PTSD takes years. It’s complicated.)

12. Schizophrenia cause the person to experience vivid and focused hallucinations. (Not usually and can sometimes be auditory. They tend to be portrayed that way because it’s more effective and doesn’t confuse the audience.)

13. People with ADHD are constantly at a caffeine high and unable to maintain focus on anything for more than a few minutes before getting distracted. (It’s actually a whole set of symptoms, some good and some bad. ADHD is usually exaggerated in movies to the point of absurdity.)

14. Hypnosis is an effective brainwashing method even when the person was an unwilling participant. (It’s impossible unless the person wanted to be brainwashed, if such is possible. Propaganda {like Fox News} and violence are much more effective for unwilling participants.)

15. Amnesia can be caused from a head bump and doesn’t last very long as well as usually pertains to the inability to recollect memories before the incident. Also, memory recovery may cause you to forget new ones already made if you experience another head injury. (Most amnesia cases pertain to the inability to create memories after the head bump if such happens but amnesia is usually rare. Not to mention, it can last for days or even a lifetime. Also, most amnesia isn’t caused by just single bump to the head or isn’t necessarily cured by it {more realistically it may be the result of significant brain damage after several head injuries over the span of years [like NFL football players]}. Not to mention, recovering past memories doesn’t lead to you losing new ones unless you have short term memory loss.)

16. People who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder are likely to lash out at people who reject them when in a mercurial mood. (Actually are more prone to harm themselves and engage in self-destructive behavior. Also, 10% of those diagnosed with BPD are estimated to die at their own hands. Sorry, Fatal Attraction.)

17. Sufferers from Tourette’s Syndrome compulsively swear. (This is coprolalia and is only experienced by 10% of Tourette’s sufferers. Also, Tourette’s sufferers usually have multiple physical and verbal tics they feel compelled to perform on a regular basis. But who wants to see someone with Tourette’s who doesn’t compulsively swear?)

18. The mentally ill are more likely to commit crimes. (Only commit slightly more violent crime {only because they have a higher incidence of substance abuse} than average but are 10 times more likely to become victims of crimes though. If they are a danger to anyone, it’s usually to themselves.)

19. It’s not uncommon for men to experience a mid life crisis in which he dumps his wife for a younger woman, quits his job, and gets himself a Cadillac. (Not really. Also, most people don’t have mid life crisis like that and are satisfied with their lives. Only affects 10% of middle aged men.)

20. People with OCD are ritualistic control freaks with no social skills and pay super attention to detail. (It’s actually an anxiety disorder that causes repeated unwanted thoughts and the rituals  are simply attempts to stop them. More along the lines of OCD personality disorder.)

21. All paranoids are schizophrenic and are laden with conspiracy theories which turn out to be true. (Paranoid schizophrenia is among a group of six kinds of schizophrenic disorders classified by disorganized thought, general difficulty thinking, delusions, hallucinations, and jerky “odd” movements and is rather rare. Also, not all paranoids are schizophrenic either. Sure they may believe in some kind of conspiracy theory but it’s not usually true.)

22. When someone is grieving, they always experience the Five Stages of Grief in order even within ten seconds of each other. (Not all of them go through the five stages and not always in order. Even Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who formulated the theory said this.)\

23. People only use 10% of their brains unless they have super powers. (Humans use all their brains but not all at the same time and about 15-30% at any given moment. When the entire brain flares up, someone usually has a seizure. Oh, and superpowers don’t really exist.)

24. All psychology is Freudian. (Well, some but it’s also part neuroscience, too.)

25. Psychological problems usually stem from a single source. (There are usually many sources and it could take weeks for a psych to figure out what’s wrong before treatment.)

26. Mental hospitals are houses of horrors. (Yes, but not for reasons you might think even though a positive experience in one is more likely. Still, abuse can happen in places with improperly trained and supervised personnel, lack of funds, and using outdated drugs.)

27. A shrink could be driven mentally unsound by his or her job. (Well, yes, but so can medical professionals, lawyers, police, and even co-dependents to mentally ill.)

28. Psychological treatment doesn’t take particularly long even if it’s from psychological trauma. (They usually take years to sort out and cure in the best scenarios and most require a lifetime.)

29. Therapy offices usually have clients sit himself or herself on a couch staring at the ceiling. (This is not as common nowadays since most involve the client and therapist facing each other.)

30. Traumatic incidences and childhood upbringing can shape a person for who they are. (To some extent, yes, but it’s kind of up for debate.)

31. Rorschach tests are standard psychiatric procedure. (Most psychiatrists don’t value the test since it requires their own judgement on the patient’s answers and the blots you see in the media aren’t the ones necessarily used in real life.)

32. Serial killers who target women and sexual deviants have grown up with abusive parents, particularly mothers. (While many social deviants do have abusive childhoods, most of them do their crimes for simply no reason. Also, while someone with abusive parents is very likely to be abusive themselves, this doesn’t mean they will become serial killers or serial rapists.)

33. Psychologists and psychiatrists are the same. (Actually psychiatrists prescribe drugs while psychologist usually do therapy.)

34. Bullies have low self-esteem. (Most of them usually have an inflated sense of self-worth and get aggressive when their sense of superiority comes into question.)

35. Cult members are mindless sheep. (They’re just like everyone else who just want to belong to a social group.)

36. Autistic people are easy to identify. (There are plenty of people who may be autistic but you wouldn’t know it.)

37. Taking drugs can lead to a higher level of enlightenment. (There’s some debate about this.)

38. Only crazy and messed up people need therapy. (Even normal people are susceptible to mental illness.)

39. Word tests are conducted in which the therapist is interested in what the patient will respond. (Usually more interested in how long it takes than what words he or she says.)

40. An Oedipus Complex pertains to guy having an inappropriate relationship with his mother. (Can be but a guy doesn’t need to have a sexual relationship with his mom to have an Oedipus Complex. He just has to want to remove his father to further himself in the eyes of his mom. The female Electra Complex is kind of the same way with girls and their fathers. Has more to do with a child’s relationship with the same sex parent than anything.)

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