Tuesday, December 20, 2016

7 movies/TV-shows that interest me as a psychology major

The main reason why I choose to major in psychology is that I find it interesting to know why people are who they are and why people behave the way they behave. And these happen to be the major topics that are discussed in the field of psychology (although nowadays I feel that in college it is much more focused on mental health and tiny biological details than it used to be, and this is unfortunately of my lesser interest). Considered separately from psychology in college, I find it interesting to see psychology related topics in films and TV-shows - when the effects of behavior or the change in people really shows, or when a film or show makes you think about the motives of a person's behavior, and how these motives came about. What factors contributed to a person to behave a certain way? I could endlessly tease my brain over these kind of questions!

Here I listed 7 movies and TV-shows that I appreciate most for their psychological aspects - and non of these are psychological thrillers, because I don't like the scary stuff, but instead they come very close to the real deal, and that's what makes them so interesting.

Girl, Interrupted
When I first watched Girl, Interrupted, perhaps some years ago, I was very impressed, and not at least by young Angelina Jolie's acting skills. While Angelina Jolie plays the supporting role of Lisa Rowe, Winona Ryder has the lead as Susanna Kaysen, on who's true story the film's plot is loosely based. In the movie, Susanna is admitted to a mental institution after an attempt to commit suicide (although this is denied by her) and diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, even though it is clear that she also suffers from depressive symptoms and a lack of motivation. In the psychiatric hospital, Susanna befriends some other patients, but she is most fascinated by Lisa, diagnosed as a sociopath, who has been in the ward for some years already. The two become friends, but Lisa's does not have a positive influence on Susanna. Throughout the film we learn more about psychiatric disorders and insanity and what it's like to live in a mental hospital (during that time though - the film takes place in the 60s), and most importantly, the film seems to suggest that (at least in that time) perfectly sane people who end up in a mental institution have a hard time to get out, because once you're in there, people automatically assume you must be insane. And this is something we've learned in college about too: conducted researches that had sane subjects check themselves in to a mental hospital with some vague complaints, who easily got a diagnosis, but they would not be released even when they acted as their sane self again as soon as they were in. That is a crazy effect, the way that the role you play in the setting of a mental hospital can be enough even for health professionals to view you as mentally insane. Susanna, in this case, may have been a little troubled and stuck in life at that point, but to label her as a borderline patient may have been unnecessary. Nowadays psychologists are way more aware of these facts and the danger of labeling, but there is danger in that even today.

Inside Out
After watching the animated film Inside Out I was quite convinced that it is the best animated film for children ever made. This movie explains to children in a fun and accurate way all these neuropsychological things - what emotions are, how the brain works, how emotions effect your behavior, how things are remembered, and what personality is, but also what it's like to move into puberty, and, in a broader sense, how people change over time when they grow up. All this is visualized in the funniest way and quite understandable for children, even though all the information was based on actual scientific research that I recognized from my lectures in college. This they achieved by portraying emotions as little living creations in your head who control your behavior by using a huge console, key aspects of your personality as islands that are created by the sum of many memories, and longterm memory as an endless amount of shelfs filled with memories, around a deep hole in the ground known as the "Memory Dump". The story is set in the mind of a girl who is forced to move away from her familiar surroundings to another state along with her parents, and throughout the film we see what's going on in her brain while she has to deal with these events and how her brain reacts to them. While this film is indeed very educational, even if you're completely unaware of that, it's still a great movie that will keep your attention for the whole 94 minutes.

Emma Wil Leven (documentary)
Emma Wil Leven is a Dutch documentary about a girl who died from anorexia after 6 years of struggling. This documentary consists out of footage from her time in a clinic in Portugal, where she received customized treatment as a last resort after there was nothing else they could do for her in her home country. Even though some people would have liked to see more of Emma and less of her therapists and other people around her talking about her, this documentary does stress some very important things: not only does it learn the laity that anorexia is not just about starving yourself, but also a great deal about coping, fear and stress, it also makes clear the importance of customized and personal treatment when standardized procedures do not succeed (if research shows that a treatment works for a large amount of the patients, then what do we do with the patients for who it does not work?), and the importance of health care providers from different disciplines to work together and communicate with each other. These are subjects that are discussed in lectures that I have in college as well, but the importances become a lot more clear when being confronted with a real life case. So even though I value this documentary because it teaches a lot of ignorant people about anorexia as a disease, I value it even more for what it teaches professionals about health care provision, as I believe that there are many more patients around who may struggle with a completely different disease, but who equally and desperately need treatment that is personal adjusted to them as standardized treatments do not work for them. It should be easier for health care providers to leave the regular path when they notice that a patient will be helped by something different from what most patients with the same disease are helped by. Unfortunately this is not so simple to achieve.

Supernanny Jo Frost
When it comes to the field of psychology, children, education and development are of my particular interest. And this is not so much because I love children (however I do), but the more because I find it very interesting to learn about what factors contribute in both positive and negative ways to what a person will become in his adult life, and so in a broader sense: the effects of certain characteristics and events on certain indicators that differentiate one person from another. The question "what is the proper way to raise children" is a very interesting one when it comes to developmental psychology. And it is particularly interesting to see the answer put into practice by 'Supernanny' Jo Frost. She obviously makes use of Skinner's reinforcement theory when she punishes and rewards a child for respectively bad and good behavior. She literally does this for every single family, but I have to admit (although not very unexpected, considering the scientific proofs): it works! Yet her approach to each family slightly differs from each other, based on the specific and personal needs of the family in question. Once again the importance of personal adjusted treatment is stressed. Jo Frost's amazing work on television got me thinking that if I will ever work in the field of psychology, I would like to do what she does: to help people when they have trouble raising their kids - only not on TV. And if I won't, then I will be forever thankful for her TV-show when I have to raise my own offspring one day.

Family Island
I hardly ever watch television, nor does television ever make me cry, but RTL's Family Island had me do both. More precisely, I watched and cried for every single episode. Great reality TV indeed! In Family Island, four families, each containing a teenager who is the main cause for the large family issues they have to deal with at home, all fly to a small uninhabited island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, all with a single goal: to solve their issues and to become a whole and happy family again. This is achieved with the help of a couple of professionals, who give the family members personal adjusted tasks that should contribute to a better relationship between teenager and parent in particular. As we watch the four families over the course of a couple of weeks, we can actually see these people change. Analyzing is quite easily done: in curious wonder, you naturally start to ask yourself these questions, as to what factors contributed to the teenager to behave this way? What is the share of the parents and their nurture in this behavior? It was very interesting to learn more about these people as to how they have come to this point at which they are desperate and stuck in their own family affairs, and even more about how these families learn to function as a proper family again with the help of the wonders of personal adjusted therapy! It's not only an interesting, but also a beautiful thing to see. I very much hope that there will be a new Family Island season next year, and if so, I would absolutely recommend you to watch it!

American Beauty
American Beauty is a film about a family, their neighbors and their daughter's friend, all having their own (psychological) issues that contribute to the events of the story. At first it seems as if the story mainly focuses on the father of the family, who is having a major midlife crisis and who is dealing with sexual thoughts about his teenage daughter's friend, but later it becomes clear that all characters in the story do have some sort of dysfunctional characteristics, and this makes it the perfect film to psychologically over-analysis it all. Besides the psychological struggles of the characters, the film deals with several important themes as appearances, happiness, freedom, love, family, sexuality, identity and the American Dream, and it's pretty interesting to think about what the movie tries to tell us about these topics. So basically, why I love this film is because it conveys multiple layers, and on each of them you can let your thoughts loose: why do the characters behave this way, what are their motives, what are their goals? What is this film really about? I love to scour the internet to gobble up all there is to know about theories and analyzes on this movie. I will not spoil and ruin it for you here, as this is not the time nor place anyways, and because there is a certain pleasure in figuring out yourself the what's & why's of a movie such as this one, before consulting an online searching engine to find out if other people's theories are close to your own. I consider a film terrific when it gives you food for thoughts to study on long after it has ended on screen.

Die Welle
As Die Welle was based on a real life experiment conducted by a teacher in the United States, I was immensely struck by it when I first watched it in high school. In this German production, a class of high school students do not believe that what happened in Nazi-Germany in WOII could ever happen again today. Their teacher argues that this is not true: masses can be easily manipulated. To demonstrate this, he starts an experiment in which the group becomes a movement that shows clear parallels with characteristics of Hitler's Nazis. The way the experiment works out is striking and terrifying: it gets completely out of hand. And of course it has everything to do with social and mass psychology. Even though this is a topic that is hard to grasp for us who have not lived in times of war, in this film we get a little more insight in how the events of WOII could ever take place and that we should be aware that it is not guaranteed that it will never happen again.

Did you see any of these films/TV-shows? I'm curious to know your thoughts! :)

Follow The Blog Editor


  1. De documentaire over Emma heb ik ook gezien, heel indrukwekkend! Mooi dat hier aandacht voor was om het op tv te laten zien

  2. Leuk artikel! Ik vond Inside Out ook echt geweldig. Ik wist niet dat ik zo gefascineerd kon worden door een animatiefilm.


♥★♫☾☯☮✽♀ Thank you for reading. Your comments are very appreciated! ♥★♫☾☯☮✽♀