Psychology at the Movies
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Psychology at the Movies explores the insights to be gained by applying various psychological lenses to popular films including cinematic depictions of human behavior, the psychology of filmmakers, and the impact of viewing movies.
  • Uses the widest range of psychological approaches to explore movies, the people who make them, and the people who watch them
  • Written in an accessible style with vivid examples from a diverse group of popular films, such as The Silence of the Lambs, The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Taxi Driver, Good Will Hunting, and A Beautiful Mind
  • Brings together psychology, film studies, mass communication, and cultural studies to provide an interdisciplinary perspective
  • Features an extensive bibliography for further exploration of various research fields


Skip Dine Young is a Professor of Psychology at Hanover College in Indiana. He is a licensed clinical psychologist with interests in popular culture, narrative psychology and human development.


List of Illustrations and Figures xi

Acknowledgments xiii

1. Introduction—The Many Sides of Psychology and the Many Faces of the Movies 3

Goals of Psychology at the Movies 6

Story, Entertainment and Art in the Movies 9

A Liberal Use of Psychology 10

A Symbolic Framework for the Psychology of Film 12

Organization of Psychology at the Movies 14

Further Reading 16

2. The Search for Meaning—Psychological Interpretations in the Movies 19

Human Behavior in the Movies 21

Unconscious Conflict in the Movies 24

Archetypes in the Movies 28

Ideology in the Movies 30

Spectators in the Movies 33

Closing Shots: The Boons and Banes of Interpretation 37

Further Reading 39

3. Psychopathology, Psychotherapy and Psycho—Psychologists and Their Patients in the Movies 43

Representations of Psychological Disorders 44

Representations of Psychologists and Psychological Treatment 49

Closing Shots: The Impact of Representations of Psychology 55

Further Reading 60

4. Crazy Genius—The Psychology of Filmmakers 63

Psychobiography and Filmmakers 64

Auteurs: Profiles of Directors 65

Star-Gazing: Profiles of Actors 69

Psychology for Filmmakers: The Case ofWoody Allen 73

Closing Shots: Evaluating Psychobiography 76

Further Reading 77

5. Picturing the Audience—Psychological Profiles of Moviegoers 81

Movie Audiences through the Years 83

The Movies PeopleWatch 85

The Movies People Like 88

Closing Shots: The Viewers behind the Numbers 91

Further Reading 91

6. The Cinematic Moment—Emotions and the Comprehension of Movies 95

Cognitive Psychology and the Movies 96

The Perception of Movies 97

The Narrative Comprehension of Movies 99

The Emotional Comprehension of Movies 101

Brain Functioning and the Movies 107

Closing Shots: An Unlikely Partnership 109

Further Reading 110

7. Reflecting on the Screen—The Reception of Movies 113

Viewer Enjoyment of Movies 115

Viewer Interpretations of Movies 120

Closing Shots: The Challenges of Audience Response 126

Further Reading 127

8. The Movies Made Me Do It—The Effects of Film 131

Effects on Behavior 133

Effects on Thoughts and Emotions 139

Propaganda and Effects on Culture 143

Closing Shots: The Great Debate over Media Effects 145

Further Reading 149

9. Movies as Equipment for Living—The Functions of Film 153

Professional Functions of Movies 155

General Functions of Movies in Everyday Life 159

Personal Functions of Movies in Everyday Life 161

Closing Shots: Seeing Movies from a Different Angle 168

Further Reading 169

10. Conclusion—Putting the Pieces Together 173

An Appeal for Interdisciplinarity 177

Movies as Art 179

Appendix A: Mental Health Professionals in Top Box Office Grossing Movies, 1990–1999 181

Appendix B: Three Top 50 Lists of Acclaimed Movies 183

Appendix C: Emotionally Arousing Movie Scenes 187

Appendix D: Therapeutic Movies 189

Endnotes 191

Bibliography 219

Filmography 239

Index 249


“From the beginning of the text, Psychology at the Movies draws the reader in and provides a clear direction and foundation to be built upon through the remainder of the text. Young’s ability to do so, not only allows this text to be read and applied in various fields, but also could be used in any level of study. From the movie buff who seeks to learn about their past time to psychology and other social science students, this text offers a balanced amount of both breadth and depth.”  (The Journal of Popular Culture, 29 August 2013)

“In sum, Psychology at the Movies offers the basis for a useful survey course in film and psychology, packaged in an engaging format. As Young asserts, “Once you start looking for it, you can’t escape psychology in the movies” (p. 6). And he adds, “Sometimes . . . a movie stays with us, and we reflect on it—for an hour, a week, a year or a lifetime” (p. 114).  With the increasing prevalence of massive open online courses (MOOCS), Young’s seminar has potential to interest a very wide audience.”  (PsycCRITIQUES, 6 February 2013)