Reviewed Books & Films

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Using Films to Develop Moral Reasoning

APA In two retrospective reviews of acclaimed director Krzysztof Kieslowski's film series The Decalogue, Keith Oatley emphasizes the storytelling power of these ten 1-hour films. He remarks that each film is a vignette raising provocative moral questions about the effects of good and bad actions on others. Specifically, he notes:

Vignettes have become useful in psychology, as they tap moral intuitions such as the one discovered by Waldemann & Dieterich (2007), that most people think it is right to affect the path of an inanimate agent such as the trolley so that it kills one rather than five people, but wrong to act on people themselves, for instance by pushing them under the trolley or in some way that directly condemns them to death.
Can films really teach us about moral reasoning and moral development? If so, what is the most effective teaching method for integrating such films in the classroom? Can a person of poor moral character be positively impacted by a portrayal of a character of high moral integrity?

Read the Reviews
ReviewWhat Should We Do? and ReviewRules We Live By
By Keith Oatley
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2009 Vol 54(1)



I think film is one of the important element in the socialization process during our development. For instance, one of the famous movie in Hong Kong "Infernal Affair" actually consists of two endings. The original ending which is broadcast in Hong Kong shows that the policeman die because the spy from triad society; however, another ending which is allowed to broadcast in China shows the policeman killed the spy. Censorship from the government actually shaping our moral development bit by bit.

On the other hand, one interesting movie called "Gambling Apocalypse" (a Japanese movie, actually demonstrates how individuals are being exploited in the society and how we are actually contributing into the inequality in our society. In fact, the movie helps me to think a lot about morality. What is categorized as right or wrong?
I think using this kind of moral dilemma films to trigger discussion during class is very effective, as students can hardly imagine something that they haven't experienced when they are still in operational stage (according to Piaget). So using movie as a way to trigger the discussion is great! For instance, i have just used one of the lectures of Justice by Prof. Michael Sandel, to trigger a discussion about choice.


The movie trailer shared by Aquina is interesting. I haven’t watched the movie yet, but I echoed Aquina’s point that it makes me think a lot about morality. There are many good Japanese films, but at the same time, many of them are very violent and are showing the immoral side of people. It made me recall a very powerful Japanese film called Confession, and luckily, I found the trailer with English subtitles in youtube:

The story is about a teacher’s child being killed by one of her students. Although the law in Japan protects the killer because of his young age, the teacher planned for revenge. She did a lot of things, not to kill the student, but to threat him mentally, such as to claim that she had add some AIDS virus into the milk that he just drank. The student was in great stress and then he killed another innocent girl again. There are really a lot of violent and cruelness acts in the film. I guess it is somehow related to the Japanese culture. They tend not to present the emotion to others directly; instead, they need to be presenting very politely even when they are dissatisfied.

In a scientific way to say, when people watching TV programs, films or listening songs, their brainwave would be more on the alpha state. I have done a simple experiment on myself before. And in the alpha state, people would have a higher susceptibility. So, is it moral to have a film showing only such dark side of people? I remember after I watched Confession, I was really feeling bad and sad about the distorted thinking of the teacher and the student.

However, no doubt that we can have a lot of inspiration from different kind of movie, and with good and meaningful discussion, we can share and learn more from others. That is the part I like most from films.

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Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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