Cinema and Psychology
How many times watching a much awaited movie or series has been your best weekend plan?
Have you noticed what happens to you after experiencing a motion picture?
If you want to know your relationship with movies ‘Beyond The Screen’ here are some key facts you may want to explore further.
When ‘Arrivée d’un train à La Ciotat’ was premiered in France in 1986, it made the audience flee from the theatre, and this was without color, without sound.
The behavioural impact of movies on society became a rich field for researchers (Jaffe, 2007). Munsterberg (1916) in ‘The Photoplay: A Psychological Study’ expressed the esthetics and creativity of movies as a power of the mind to create an escape from turmoils of reality that can defeat demands of reality itself with the joy and liberty of the mind expressed through motion pictures.
From 1916 onwards, ‘psychology of film’ has evolved as a domain focusing on cognitive, behavioural, neurological and social correlates of movies (Tan 2018). Today we have come a long way in film technology with an outstanding amalgamation of organic and artificial intelligence.
Early studies mostly used a psychoanalytic perspective for the same and progress was made to empirical observations in recent times. Studies on cinema in psychology explores product placement, healing through movies and how portrayal of characters play a role in the belief systems of audience (Jaffe, 2007).
“Let’s consider the way psychologists are portrayed in movies. The characters are shown as responsible mental health professionals, but not accurate to reality. In reality, therapy is equal responsibility between client and counsellor. ‘Client is their own savior’ and counsellor facilitates the process. So, in brief, therapy has positive consequences but it need not be as shown in movies where clients are depicted more as passive receivers and less as actively working towards healing. Such flawed depictions shape people’s expectations from the therapist, therapeutic relationship, and extent and direction of change in targeted issues (Orchowski, as mentioned in Jaffe, 2007). This can be true about any relationship or social environment when depicted inaccurately.“
Violence in Cinema
Talking about the role of cinema in human behavior, exposure to violence can lead to increase in aggressiveness. It can happen through vicarious/observational learning or desensitisation to violence. Vicarious learning, a concept originally used by Bandura, says that observing a certain pattern of behaviour can lead to learning of the same and performed later in similar situations.
This was explained through the famous Bobo doll experiment (1961-63) which concluded that exposure to an adult model behaving aggressively with a Bobo doll made children behave aggressively towards it even in the absence of the model (Cherry, 2022). Desensitization to violent content means observers getting ‘pathologically adapted’ to tolerate increased levels of violence and have lower levels of distress from it.
It is a neurological, emotional and cognitive phenomena that makes people habitual to violent content due to frequent exposure and also make them more prone to carry out violent acts (Linz, Donnerstein & Penroid, 1998). However, this exposure impacts different people differently. People who are temperamentally aggressive may show more aggressiveness elevation in comparison to people who are not temperamentally aggressive.
Identification level with the portrayed character can be another factor. Type of film also matters, for eg: realistic films can have greater impact than fictional ones as realistic movies give very less freedom to discount on subjective emotional experiences. There are possible changes in neural netwroks, brain chemistry, emotional and physiological arousal patterns and cognitions happening when we are absorbed in cinema (Zillmann as mentioned in Jaffe, 2007).
“This can have consequences like feeling loss, abandonment and separation from the characters’ on going lives as they won’t be evolving anymore, it is the death of that character. We process that as the loss, we experience grief. It is natural and can be overcome. But if symptoms are appearing to be overwhelming, approaching therapy is the best option. This may be an indication of unhealed aspects of ourselves surfacing that need attention.“
Expectation versus reality
Films’ portrayal of character- heroic, caring, moral, evil, healer, leader etc. pens the schema in us about how people and events around us must be. For eg: the portrayal of psychologists in most movies gives a picture of them as having good will, savior etc. The issue remains in creating these characters in a way that is far from reality but closer to mythical expectations.
Let’s consider the way psychologists are portrayed in movies. The characters are shown as responsible mental health professionals, but not accurate to reality. In reality, therapy is equal responsibility between client and counsellor. ‘Client is their own savior’ and counsellor facilitates the process.
So, in brief, therapy has positive consequences but it need not be as shown in movies where clients are depicted more as passive receivers and less as actively working towards healing.
Such flawed depictions shape people’s expectations from the therapist, therapeutic relationship, and extent and direction of change in targeted issues (Orchowski, as mentioned in Jaffe, 2007). This can be true about any relationship or social environment when depicted inaccurately.
Another highlight is the portrayal of relationship beliefs- like love will find a way, things will be alright towards the end (an uncertain end), people will change etc. As was stated earlier, movies are a product and they play with principles of what the audience want. Society is ruled by morals and most people find a fulfilment of the same in movies.
The accepted product would be one that makes people feel good- when good wins over evil, evil is punished and consequences are visible within a short span, efforts lead to expected success etc.
These are subliminal messages that can affect us (Matt, n.d.). Playing by these rules, movies re-affirm people’s expectations and hence drift them from being creative and rationale in reality, because they want reality to turn out to be like in the movies. While hope gained from movies must be there, but sourcing the hope from an external agency always, like the appearance of a savior may not be helpful in reality.
Therapeutic Effect of Movies
Despite the negative highlights stated above, movies can be sources of immense inspiration, resolution and self-integration. If used as an adjunct psychotherapy, movies can potentially help people with emotional expression by allowing them to connect to characters that are relatable and can be identified with. One reason why this can happen is because of the presence of mirror neurons in us.
The capacity of neurons to evoke responses as observed, imitate them and in turn giving us the same internal subjective experience in real life as is observed in reel life (Wolz, as mentioned in Jaffe, 2007). Zillmann (as mentioned in Jaffe, 2007) however suggests and warns that use of movies in therapy be limited to its entertaining role for contexts such as mood management towards a desired outcome, and not healing illness.
On the contrary, recent studies, under the term ‘cinematherapy’ highlights the multiple benefits of movies, series and episodes to break resistance to therapeutic change and instill creative growth. Cinema connects with people at deeper levels, engages multiple senses, cognition, emotion and perception. This can be taken advantage of to devise therapeutic notes by a therapist.
Even without undergoing therapy, movies provide us with self-awareness, relatedness, models, validation, expression, brain activation, alternate perspectives to cope and insight gaining in a helpful way. What matters here is the selection of the content in line with the context and the person (Borchard, 2017; Mann, 2007; Sacilotto, Salvato, Villa, Salvi, Bottini, 2022).
So grab with confidence, movies that inspire you, shows psychological growth enhancing content and endings that are motivating, if you are looking forward to heal through movies. But Zillmann’s statement must be kept in consideration and if you suspect crisis, your coping resources are no longer able to help you survive, approaching therapy or counselling is strongly suggested.
Post Series Blues
What do you do when your favorite series is over? Being religious towards a show or series isn’t uncommon. The more we watch, the more we become a part of the reel world, emotionally attached with the characters.
So when the series ends, it is natural to have a sense of emptiness, separation and loss, a state termed as ‘post series blues’ (Shashikumar, 2022). Post series blues have more focus currently on grey literature than academic literature.
So even if the existence of post series blues is real, many claims about it may not be empirical (Kottasz, Bennett & Randell, 2019). Being in constant presence of the characters alter our psychology and neurology to want the storyline to continue forever, a compulsion for consumption. It may also become a major thing we look forward to and invest ourselves with dedication (Agarwal, 2020).
This can have consequences like feeling loss, abandonment and separation from the characters’ on going lives as they won’t be evolving anymore, it is the death of that character. We process that as the loss, we experience grief. It is natural and can be overcome.
But if symptoms are appearing to be overwhelming, approaching therapy is the best option. This may be an indication of unhealed aspects of ourselves surfacing that need attention. Yet, the following tips collected from various grey sources may help while you are surviving the post series blues:
- Take a break. If you are feeling that no other series can replace the one you were following, then don’t look for it. Instead you may try doing alternative activities like reading, or a hobby, or an outing.
- Get in touch with the fan community, share, explore and discuss the emotional experiences. It is important to earn validation at this time.
- Watch finales with your friends or folks, watch moments of the team, learn about the team’s own post show blues and how they are coping, most importantly, celebrate with them as they have completed the project.
- Watch behind the scenes and bloopers of the series. This can re-define the characters for you and re-establish them as professional actors in your consideration.
- Read about reactions, debates, evaluations on online platforms about the series. This may help you gain a range of alternative perspectives.
- You can try to prevent post series blues by planning activities to look forward to ahead of starting the series. This will keep you prepared for the end and the blues may be less intense.
- Create fan fictions. Channelize your expectations productively and you may feel valuable and grateful for indulging yourself in a particular show.
- Take breaks with other shows or activities when the show is still on air. This may act as buffers that can help you feel connected to another activity when the show of interest ends.
- You can also decide to bid a farewell to the show with a letters, notes or by hosting an event that’s convenient.
The above mentioned are only a few that may work. As already stated, evidence based literature on post series blues is awaited for, so there is a chance that the above tips may not work for everyone.
Cinema is a creative content and the coping to post series blues may also require creative efforts with evidence based principles and mechanisms. In conclusion, happy premier, but with precaution to consequences!
Agarwal, M. 2020. Just finished binge-watching a great show? Here are 7 ways to help you overcome post-series blues. https://www.vogue.in/culture-and-living/content/how-to-get-over-finishing-a-great-show-ways-to-overcome-post-series-blues
Borchard, T. J. 2017. Cinematherapy: The Healing Power of Movies and TV. https://psychcentral.com/blog/cinematherapy-the-healing-power-of-movies-and-tv
Cherry, K. 2022. What the Bobo Doll Experiment Reveals About Kids and Aggression. https://www.verywellmind.com/bobo-doll-experiment-2794993
Jaffe, E. (2007). Reel to Real: Psychology Goes to the Movies. Association for Psychological Science
Kottasz, Rita & Bennett, Roger & Randell, Tom. (2019). Post-series depression: scale development and validation. Arts and the Market. 9. 132-151. 10.1108/AAM-02-2019-0009.
Linz DG, Donnerstein E, Penrod S. Effects of long-term exposure to violent and sexually degrading depictions of women. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1988 Nov;55(5):758-68. doi: 10.1037//0022-35220.127.116.118. PMID: 3210143.
Mann, D. 2007. Movie Therapy: Using Movies for Mental Health. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/movie-therapy-using-movies-for-mental-health
Matt. N.d. Psychology Of Filmmaking: What You Need To Know To Make Your Ideas Stick. https://filmlifestyle.com/psychology-of-filmmaking/
Münsterberg, H. (1916). The Photoplay: A Psychological Study. D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
Sacilotto E, Salvato G, Villa F, Salvi F, Bottini G. Through the Looking Glass: A Scoping Review of Cinema and Video Therapy. Front Psychol. 2022 Jan 11;12:732246. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.732246. PMID: 35087441; PMCID: PMC8786706.
Shashikumar, M. 2022. Why We Grieve Our Favourite TV Shows: Psychologists On ‘Post-Series Depression’. https://www.thequint.com/fit/post-series-depression-tv-shows-movies-books-ending-how-to-cope#read-more
Tan, E.S. A psychology of the film. Palgrave Commun 4, 82 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-018-0111-y
About the writer:
Sampreeti Das is an Academician and REBT and Transpersonal and Holistic Psychotherapist. She is currently working in Kristu Jayanti College, Bengaluru as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology. She has contributed her services as a counselor and psychotherapist through the University Counselling Cell, Assam Don Bosco University, Departmental Community Counselling Cell, Assam Don Bosco University, Varta Trust, Bonobology and Dhara helpline for Covid-19 frontliners by Global Pandemic Response Forum.
She received her training in academics from Lady Shri Ram College Delhi University and Guwahati University. She has been certified by Iscah Wellness as a practitioner in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy under the supervision of Suniti Baruah, founder of Iscah Wellness and a Diploma in Transformational and Holistic Psychotherapy under Dr. Gaurav Deka, founder, Cognial Healers’ Academy. Apart from the above she has completed certificate courses in Mindfulness, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Neuro Linguistic Programming, Family Systems Therapy, Specific Learning Disability, Mental Health during Covid -19 and Tele-counselling under eminent practitioners and prestigious organizations.
Sampreeti Das is experienced as a teacher for 8 years, life skills session speaker for 4 years and as a counselor and psychotherapist for 6 years. She has also taken initiatives to spread mental health awareness in the community through face to face public interactions and multimedia platforms from her previous institutions of affiliation collaborating with programmes like Unnat Bharat Abhiyan and organizations like Hope Foundation.
[ Sampreeti Das, Email: email@example.com ,Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Kristu Jayanti College, Bengaluru]
Images from different sources
Mahabahu.com is an Online Magazine with collection of premium Assamese and English articles and posts with cultural base and modern thinking. You can send your articles to firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com ( For Assamese article, Unicode font is necessary)