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Thursday, July 09, 2015

"A Role Model for Resilience — But Does It Help You or Your Clients Change?"


The film Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, tells the remarkable story of Louis Zamperini, a prisoner of war during World War II who survived numerous traumas, including a plane crash, 47 days on a raft at sea, and systematic torture for 27 months. It would seem unimaginable, for most of us, to put ourselves in Zamperini's shoes for even 1/10 of these traumas.

In his review of the film, psychologist and author Paul T. P. Wong discusses how Zamperini's resilience/perseverance emerges through a combination of many factors, such as finding meaning in suffering, having faith in an ultimate rescuer, and channeling personal willpower and passion throughout his lifetime (including pretrauma).

Many psychologists use films such as Unbroken for clients to exemplify resilience and to provide role models of figures who have overcome problems. Do you and your clients find characterizations of figures like Zamperini to be helpful role models for rallying your own or your clients' resilience? Or are such portrayals too challenging to relate to and thus not as helpful as, say, a family member or friend who has overcome a personal challenge? Feel free to share an example in your response.

Either way, perhaps such examples create additional pathways for viewers to reflect on how they relate to their suffering, how they tap into the power of the human condition, and how they make meaning out of adversity. From this perspective, are films like Unbroken always helpful?

Read the Review
ReviewThe Positive Psychology of Grit: The Defiant Power of the Human Spirit
By Paul T. P. Wong
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(25)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What 2014 Films Would Win if Psychologists Gave out Academy Awards?

APA The decision to add selected psychologically relevant films to PsycCRITIQUES (a practice introduced by E. G. Boring, the first editor of Contemporary Psychology) has been widely applauded, and many readers report they read the film reviews before turning to the more pedestrian reviews of books.

Some of the 2014 films that have been (or will be) reviewed in PsycCRITIQUES include Boyhood, The Theory of Everything, American Sniper, Skeleton Twins, The Railway Man, Noah, Grand Budapest Hotel, Selma, Still Alice, Wild, Unbroken, and Birdman.

If you were giving awards for psychologically relevant films, which movies would you nominate?

Below are reviews of nine films from 2014 that are worth viewing with a psychological lens. To dig deeper, peruse these reviews published in PsycCRITIQUES.

Read the Reviews
ReviewTomorrow’s Another Day
By David G. Wall and Jacqueline Remondet Wall
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(10)
  • A review of the film The Theory of Everything
ReviewWhen Resilence Fails, Vulnerability Wreaks Havoc
      By Reshma Naidoo
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(9)
  • A review of the film Gone Girl


ReviewThe Railway Man: Next Stop PTSD
By Michael Fass
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(5)
  • A review of the film The Railway Man
ReviewInterstellar Dreams Big
By Christopher J. Ferguson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(4)
  • A review of the film Intersellar


ReviewGus's Mamartia
By David G. Wall and Jacqueline Remondet Wall
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(2)
  • A review of the film The Fault in Our Stars
ReviewCoded Messages
By Keith Oatley
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(52)
  • A review of the film The Imitation Game


ReviewIf It Bleeds, It Leads
By Jason A. Cantone and Brandon Kuss PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(51)
  • A review of the film Nightcrawler

 ReviewGrowing Up in America
By Keith Oatley
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(50)

  • A review of the film Boyhood


ReviewWhat Is Left of Creation
By David Manier
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(43)
  • A review of the film Noah

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Has Psychology Lost Its Humanity?


In his intriguing review of the multilayered film Interstellar, Chris Ferguson applauds the film for attempting to bring in some science (despite being a science fiction film) and for unveiling deeper meaning in its exploration of humanity. He contrasts this with the field of psychology that, in some ways, has taken steps backward rather than advanced itself as a science. Ferguson explains:

I worry that psychology has lost its humanity. Psychological science seems to have ceased asking the big questions, or trying to understand the human condition. Instead we squabble over small-scale theories, or attempt to defend the societal importance of correlational effect sizes of r = .20 or less. Our theories have become unfalsifiable, surviving in some undead like state even as they are rocked by replication crises. The conduct of our research has become so cynical that leading researchers openly acknowledge not reporting theory unfavorable results (see Schimmack, 2014). I argue that psychology has fundamentally lost sight of itself and what it was meant to study. (para. 10)

What do you think? Has psychology lost its humanity? 

Or, would you argue for the exact opposite, that some fields within psychological science have significantly advanced and deepened from a scientific perspective? 

In either case, what are the best next steps to advance our field?

Read the Review
ReviewInterstellar Dreams Big
By Christopher J. Ferguson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(4)

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Virtue and Balance: Personal, Interpersonal, and Societal Implications


The action-drama film Divergent, based on the best-selling book series by Veronica Roth, depicts a dystopian society divided by virtues and explores important questions on individual, interpersonal, and societal levels, such as the following.

  • Individual level: Are we all divergent? In other words, do we all express a strong constellation of many virtues and character strengths, or do we mostly tend to express one in particular? In what situations do we commonly overuse these strengths?
  • Interpersonal level: How do we relate to people who strongly express a virtue different from our own (e.g., wisdom versus courage; temperance versus justice)? Can the expression of one virtue collide with the expression of another?
  • Societal level: What is the role of virtue in society? What are the limits of virtue? Can society have too much courage, too much justice, too much knowledge? Are virtues the key element of a utopian society?

Whether you’ve seen the film or not, consider these questions and offer your observations and opinions on whichever cluster strikes you most.

In my PsycCRITIQUES review of the film, I chose to focus on the first cluster of questions and delve into the concept of "overuse" of virtue or character strengths. Hearkening back to ideas first opined by Aristotle, all of us are vulnerable to bringing forth our strengths and virtues too strongly (e.g., being too honest, attempting to offer too much wise advice, being too curious, and so on). The science of positive psychology is investigating these areas more closely and is finding that great importance might be placed on finding balance with our virtue and character strength expression. What do you think?


Read the Review
ReviewThe Overuse of Strengths: 10 Principles
By Ryan M. Niemiec
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(33)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What's Your View of Heaven?


Heaven Is for Real is a film based on the true story of a 4-year-old boy who reported he visited heaven while under anesthesia during a life-threatening operation. The film has garnered a significant amount of media attention and popular interest. In his review, Edward Cumella reports that the film offers minimal insight into the phenomenon of near death experiences (NDEs) and misses opportunities to discuss scientific information and explore complex questions relating to NDEs. In addition, he reports that the film reinforces stereotypes of psychologists and of scientists.

What is your view about NDEs? Are they a connection with “something greater” (e.g., a heaven), are they merely an artifact of our brain processing material, or are they something else?

Is it possible for movies or books to convince consumers one way or another on the existence of an afterlife? Or, are they simply mechanisms that individuals ultimately use to support their existing bias?

Do movies that perpetrate misconceptions about scientists and psychologists do more harm than good for the field of psychology?

Read the Review
ReviewIs Heaven Real? Heaven Knows!
By Edward J. Cumella
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(32)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Imperative of Forgiveness and the Deployment of "Heroic" Character Strengths


Consider atrocities that have occurred in Rwanda, Israel, Northern Ireland, and Palestine. Think about the people on both sides of the experience—living victims and perpetrators. Now, reflect on the following questions:

  • What does it take to truly forgive someone after he or she has committed a terrible wrong?
  • Is it possible to forgive an entire group of people (e.g., a race, a country, those who practice a particular religion)? Is it easier to forgive an individual perpetrator or a group of perpetrators?
  • On the other hand, what does it take to ask for forgiveness? For a perpetrator who has been forgiven, is it of greater benefit if he or she first acknowledged the full extent of the wrongdoing and asked for forgiveness?

The science of positive psychology, which encapsulates the upsurge in scientific findings on forgiveness, informs us of the physical and psychological benefits of forgiving others. However, there are many dynamics yet to be thoroughly examined by positive psychology. In their review of the documentary film Beyond Right and Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness, Frank Farley and  Mona Sarshar examine the challenges of reconciliation and some of the benefits for those who display this character strength in action. They point out that despite an increase in research, there remain few studies on the benefits to perpetrators who have been forgiven. In addition, they emphasize the importance of altruism, generosity, and other "heroic" character strengths to counteract such horrors. 

Indeed, if we all deployed our character strengths in ways to benefit others, we would not be having this conversation. What thoughts, opinions, and comments does this idea elicit in you?


Read the Review
ReviewFrom Giving to Forgiving—A Bridge Too Far?
By Frank Farley and Mona Sarshar
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(8)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

What 2013 Films Would Win If Psychologists Gave Out Academy Awards?


The decision to add selected psychologically relevant films to PsycCRITIQUES (a practice introduced by E. G. Boring, the first editor of Contemporary Psychology) has been widely applauded, and many readers report they read the film reviews before turning to the more pedestrian reviews of books.

Some of the 2013 films that have been (or will be) reviewed in PsycCRITIQUES include The Great Gatsby, 42, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, Her, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Butler, and Before Midnight.

If you were giving awards for psychologically relevant films, which movies would you nominate?

Read the Reviews
By Keith Oatley
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(41)
  • A review of the film The Great Gatsby
ReviewThe Fountainhead of Eudaemonia
By David G. Wall
      and Jacqueline Remondet Wall
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(39)
  • A review of the film 42


ReviewHeroism on the High Seas: Piracy, Type T Personality, and Perspicacity
      By Frank Farley
      and Mona Sarshar
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(4)
  • A review of the film Captain Phillips
ReviewWhen Gravity Shall Set You Free
By Richard W. Bloom
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(47)
  • A review of the film Gravity



ReviewThe Butler Did It
By Christopher J. Ferguson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(3)
  • A review of the film The Butler
ReviewKeeping Love Visible
By David G. Wall
      and Jacqueline Remondet Wall
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(51)
  • A review of the film Before Midnight

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Flight: A Powerful and Popular Film on Addiction

APA The engaging film Flight, starring Denzel Washington as Whip, an airline pilot suffering from alcohol dependence, offers viewers a wide range of material to consider—powerful portrayal of addiction, realistic consequences of a disease, the struggle of recovery, emotional turmoil, and hope.

As Ronda Dearing and Molly Rath emphasize in their PsycCRITIQUES review, this film does not take the approach of most addiction films emphasizing the "why" of the addiction, such as abuse/trauma, parents with alcoholism, and/or persistent feelings of failure. Instead, the focus is on the present-day character of Whip, who is facing major challenges and displays his full personality—his addictive behaviors, his positive character strengths, and his struggle to make the right decisions. Thus, viewers see a more realistic, complex human being. Viewers are likely to have a range of reactions to the portrayal, for example, empathy, sympathy, admiration, disgust, anger, gratitude, and pride.

What were some of your emotional reactions to the portrayal of Whip? Did your feelings change as the film progressed?

The film recently won a Prism award for best substance abuse film because of its accuracy in the portrayal of an individual suffering this condition. Would you consider Denzel Washington's portrayal of addiction to be spot-on in terms of accuracy? What would you change?

Read the Review
ReviewAn Ordinary Day
By Ronda L. Dearing and Molly S. Rath
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(37)

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Argo: Acclaim, Misconceptions, and the Priority of Entertainment

APA The widely acclaimed film Argo swooped up numerous awards last year including prestigious Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film offers a riveting, intense story of a creative CIA plan to "make a fake movie" in order to save hostages in a volatile Iran in 1980. Despite the high entertainment value, the film does exhibit some stereotypes that are worth critiquing.

In her review of the film, Jaine Darwin observes the reductionistic, all-or-none quality of the film to portray the U.S. democracy as good and the Iranian theist state as bad. No doubt this is done in part to create a deep allegiance in the viewer and intensify the climactic scenes. In addition, a strong theme of the film is the CIA agent's decision to disobey authority and orders and continue the undercover plot despite increasing danger. Darwin points out that this perpetuates "the misconception that in order to be successful or to survive, one must fail to obey orders." Such behavior is rampant in the action film genre as well as in those involving political and government plotlines.

Do you agree with Darwin's observations? To what extent does this detract from your appreciation of the film?

In some cases, filmmakers have to choose to sacrifice some degree of accuracy in order to provide more extensive entertainment. Is there a line that can be drawn in terms of amount of accuracy sacrificed for level of entertainment gained?

Read the Review
ReviewThe Golden Fleece Redux
By Jaine Darwin
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(23)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

What Do Our Students Need to Know About Detainee Interrogations?

APA Paul Kimmel and W. Brad Johnson offer separate reviews of clinical psychologist Martha Davis's film Doctors of the Dark Side in the May 8, 2013, release of PsycCRITIQUES. Kimmel is a former president of the APA's Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence: Peace Psychology (Division 48) and a highly respected peace advocate. Johnson is a former president of the APA Society for Military Psychology (Division 19), former chair of the APA Ethics Committee, and a professor in the Department of Leadership, Ethics, and Law at the U.S. Naval Academy. Both reviewers offer thoughtful perspectives on the role of psychologists in interrogations, and both believe Doctors of the Dark Side might be a valuable training tool for psychologists and other health professionals preparing to work in national security jobs. For example, Johnson notes,

New professionals will hardly be able to absorb this film without appreciating the risks associated with detainee interview and interrogation work and the terrible toll associated with ignoring human rights.
Should this film routinely be shown in psychology training programs?

Read the Reviews
ReviewDo as Little Harm as Possible
By Paul Kimmel
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(19)

ReviewPsychologists' Roles in National Security: Getting Beyond Dichotomous Thinking
By W. Brad Johnson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(19)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nature, Nurture, and Violence

APA The film We Need to Talk About Kevin focuses on a mother coping with the horrifying reality of her son's mass killing at school. The film offers flashbacks of the complex and troubled relationship between the mother and son but provides no definitive answer as to the cause of the atrocity.

In their review of the film, April Bradley and Erin Olufs discuss a variety of factors that can shed light on such a situation, for example, attachment styles, temperament, parenting, genetics, and parent–child conflict. Which do you believe plays the most significant role? Is it possible that one factor is typically the most dominant, or is it always relative to the particular situation or individual? Although the people responsible for mass killings are the product of both nature and nurture (and their interaction), which factor is most responsible for violent acts? Is there research to justify your position?

Read the Review
ReviewFamily Dynamics and School Violence
By April Bradley and Erin Olufs
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(49)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

What 2012 Films Would Win If Psychologists Gave Out Academy Awards?

APA The decision to add selected psychologically relevant films to PsycCRITIQUES (a practice introduced by E. G. Boring, the first editor of Contemporary Psychology) has been widely applauded, and many readers report they read the film reviews before turning to the more pedestrian reviews of books.

Some of the 2012 films that have been (or will be) reviewed in PsycCRITIQUES include Brave, Les Misérables, The Hunger Games, The Dark Knight Rises, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amour, The Central Park Five, Silver Linings Playbook, and Lincoln.

If you were organizing awards for psychologically relevant films, which movies would you nominate?

Read the Reviews
ReviewA Ray of Hope in a World of Darkness
By Jeremy Clyman
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(35)
  • A review of the film The Dark Knight Rises
ReviewAppetite for Destruction
By Christopher J. Ferguson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(23)
  • A review of the film The Hunger Games

ReviewFacing Our Monsters
By Jacqueline Remondet Wall
      and David G. Wall
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(45)
  • A review of the film Beasts of the Southern Wild
ReviewThe Amazing Spider-Man: Growth
Over Grief

      By Jeremy Clyman
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(36)
  • A review of the film The Amazing Spider-Man

ReviewSelves and Others
By Keith Oatley
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(3)
  • A review of the film Anna Karenina
ReviewComing Closer
By Keith Oatley
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(1)
  • A review of the film The Sessions

ReviewDraw and Release: Tension and Independence in the
Mother–Daughter Dyad

      By Leafar F. Espinoza
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(8)
  • A review of the film Brave
Review"Just Call Me Hitch . . .": The Enigma of Alfred Hitchcock
      By Marlene M. Eisenberg
      and Michael B. Blank
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(6)
  • A review of the film Hitchcock

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Seeing Our Shadow Side in Films

APA Roman Polanski, the controversial filmmaker, recently adapted the play God of Carnage into a film, Carnage. It's a fascinating, raw, yet realistic film about two couples who meet to discuss an altercation between their sons. This discussion soon leads to subtle and very direct confrontation between the parents and a situation in which each character affronts the others in a harmful way. The deteriorating interactions between the families are troubling and the tension palpable.

Despite the negativism, the film is incredibly engaging and interesting. How could viewers use the film to enhance their own communication skills?

In their review of the film, Dana Dunn and Sarah Sacks Dunn assert that, despite the despicable behavior of these characters, every viewer has some degree of each of the four characters within himself or herself. However, if we accept this fact, we can use the film, or others like it, for personal growth.

What movie characters in history do you resonate with the most? Do you see parts of yourself in their shadow side?

Read the Review
ReviewNarcissists Are Us?
By Dana S. Dunn and Sarah Sacks Dunn
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(48)

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Darkness, Violence, and Hope Connected With The Dark Knight Rises

APA Hope and excitement filled the audience members at the opening, midnight showing of one of the most anticipated movies of the last half-decade. But The Dark Knight Rises will not be remembered for its captivating action sequences, surprising plot twists, cinematic mastery, or its attentive and meaningful encapsulation of one of the most remarkable trilogies in film history. Instead, the film will forever be linked with the horrifying massacre of 12 people and injuries to 58 others in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, allegedly by recent graduate school dropout James Holmes.

Holmes's actions have experts—desperate to find comforting causation for such incomprehensible behavior—reaching for mental illness as a solitary explanation. Holmes apparently made claims connecting himself to "the Joker," a character with a psychopathic personality from the second film in the trilogy. News reports indicate he had been treated by more than one mental health professional, and various diagnostic labels have been suggested.

The violence perpetrated at the Aurora movie theater mirrors a common stereotype perpetrated in movies—that all people with mental illness are violent. In reality, people with a mental illness are much more likely to be victims of a violent crime than to perpetrate one. Choe et al. (2008) found that 2 to 13 percent of outpatients with a mental illness perpetrated violence in the previous 3 years, whereas 20 to 34 percent had been violently victimized.

As stories of mental illness and violence shroud the Aurora tragedy, equal weight should be given to the heroism, bravery, and self-sacrifice of many of the deceased and survivors of the shooting. In this spirit of reframing, the PsycCRITIQUES review of The Dark Knight Rises by Jeremy Clyman helps viewers focus their attention on the artistic and thematic merits of the film. Clyman highlights the science surrounding the character strength of hope as it is deftly portrayed in the film. If there was a strength of value for not only film-goers studying the movie, but also those afflicted with a mental illness and most especially those victims and families struggling to move forward, it would be hope.

What strikes you most about the film and the events surrounding the film?

What factors might most contribute to such extreme violent acts? To what degree do you believe mental illness played a role?


Choe, J. Y., Teplin, L. A., & Abram, K. M. (2008). Perpetration of violence, violent victimization, and severe mental illness: Balancing public health concerns. Psychiatric Services, 59, 153-164.

Read the Review
ReviewA Ray of Hope in a World of Darkness
By Jeremy Clyman
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(34)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sex, Boundary Violations, and Psychiatry Legends

APA The provocative and entertaining film A Dangerous Method is a piece of historical fiction dipping into the early days of psychoanalysis and some of the interactions between Freud and Jung. The film also features the character Sabina, a patient with psychosis, who prior to becoming a physician and scholar was treated by both Freud and Jung. In the film, Jung has erotic, ecstatic, and sado-masochistic sex with Sabina. But as Eugene Taylor notes in his review of the film, "there is no evidence that any of the sexual scenes in the film actually ever happened."

Films are notorious for depicting psychologists and psychiatrists who cross boundaries, often of a melodramatic and sexual nature. But is there some truth to this boundary-crossing? Do most psychotherapists cross a "boundary" with patients at some point in their career? What percentage do you believe commit serious, substantive boundary violations such as sexual intercourse with a patient?

For those who have closely studied Freud, Jung, and/or psychoanalysis, how accurate is the portrayal of psychoanalysis and the characterization of these legendary psychiatrists in A Dangerous Method?

Read the Review
ReviewDid Jung Really Sleep With Sabina?
By Eugene Taylor
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(16)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

When Does Science Go Too Far?

APA Project Nim is a documentary film depicting the life of the now-famous chimpanzee Nim Chimpsky who was raised by humans and taught to read sign language. In gathering research data on their subject over several years, scientists put Nim through a variety of hardships such as various transfers, poor living conditions at times, and forcing him into a variety of situations he was unprepared for.

The project revealed a number of insights about human–animal communication and the science of animal learning. At the same time, there is controversy as to whether the experiment should have even been started, in addition to whether the research study went on for too long. In her review of the film, Judith Stillion observes that this is an example where psychology lost its way and learned from it. Stillion goes on to say,

The film tries to show that there were no real villains in Nim's case, just human beings who did not have the vision to understand the consequences of their actions. With the benefit of hindsight, all of the principals in the project who were interviewed in the film were unanimous that this study was a mistake.
In considering the risks and benefits of these kinds of projects (also recall the Zimbardo Prison Experiment and the Milgram studies), to what extent do you believe scientific pursuit should compromise the well-being of other beings? How might a researcher best balance consideration of harm and the promise of scientific findings? To what extent do your views change when the subjects are humans, dogs, primates, or rats?

Read the Review
ReviewPsychology: Losing Its Way and Learning From It
By Judith Stillion
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(15)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Romance Gone Bad...But Why?

APA The popular film Blue Valentine is an engaging and interesting drama that explores the vicissitudes of a romantic relationship, times when it is going well and vibrating with excitement, periods when it is languishing into a downward spiral, and those mundane experiences somewhere in between. In her review of the film, Karen Conner notes that there is a paucity of research that explores the origins of those emotional dynamics that lead to early divorce (e.g., stonewalling, defensiveness, cynicism). In this vein, she poses some interesting questions for viewers/readers to consider, including the following: What happens to a relationship when one partner is in romantic love and the other is not? Under what circumstances does such a relationship survive and thrive, or devolve into one of wounding accusations and bitter disappointment?

Read the Review
ReviewThe Love That Wasn't
By Karen Conner
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2012 Vol 57(4)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Amazing Potential Meets Hidden Dangers

APA The film Limitless, about a protagonist who must deal with newfound supermental powers, raises some interesting themes of interest to psychologists and the general public. Mary Spiers, in her review of the film, reflects on the film's core theme by discussing the current trends and research in neuroenhancement, in which drugs are used or studied as methods for improving cognitive performance. Addiction and physical and psychological side effects loom large with these drugs, yet uncharted self-improvement and societal change hold an irresistible allure for many.

What would you suggest are the ethical parameters for the use of such medications? Should a line be drawn with such medications? What are the hidden, potential dangers of pursuing neuroenhancement? In your future practice, a client will likely be speaking to you about similar medications; how might you provide a balanced point of view to help him or her arrive at a useful decision?

Read the Review
ReviewNeuroenhancement: Do “Smart Pills” Have Limits?
By Mary V. Spiers
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2011 Vol 56(31)

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Law and Psychology at the Movies

APA In his review of the film The Lincoln Lawyer (2011), Jason A. Cantone notes the importance of diversifying psycholegal research, arguing that:

Much psycholegal research presents police officers as the bad guys, with experiments examining forced confessions and biased line-ups. The Lincoln Lawyer bucks this trend, presenting the police and prosecutors as people trying to do the right thing, while [the protagonist's] legal representation poses the larger ethical quandaries. This is not to say that research should stop investigating the negative impact of false confessions, biased line-ups, and the pitfalls of eyewitness and earwitness testimony. For example, Kassin et al. (2010) should be commended for their excellent article on police-induced confessions, which concluded with a recommendation to mandate the recording of all interrogations. Instead, it is a comment on the relative dearth of psycholegal research on attorney misconduct.
As psychologists and legal theorists seek to bridge the gap between research in psychology and law, what research should be done to better understand the role attorney misconduct plays in the judicial process? How can psychology examine the legal and ethical quandaries faced by attorneys? How can psychology be utilized to encourage adequate representation of counsel for all clients?

Read the Review
ReviewUnequal Justice
By Jason A. Cantone
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2011 Vol 56(30)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Mental Illness, Beauty, and Character Strength

APA In the poetic, experimental film Crooked Beauty: Navigating the Space Between Brilliance and Madness, director Ken Paul Rosenthal weaves photographic images and film of the mercurial weather patterns of the San Francisco Bay area with voice-over storytelling and artwork by activist/artist Jacks Ashley McNamara, a woman who suffers from a severe mental illness. This short film is stunning as a positive psychology film, one that depicts psychological struggle and turmoil, while simultaneously depicting the resilience, creativity, humanity, and ultimately triumph therein. The film elicits important questions for psychologists in the domain of mental illness and its treatment as well as the domain of positive psychological functioning. Here are some themes that offer reflection.

(1) In their PsycCRITIQUES review of Crooked Beauty, Larry Leitner and Hideaki Imai cite studies that have found people with schizophrenia can achieve better outcomes in particular treatment programs without medication. The pervasiveness of psychiatry and the medical model can often lead to the alternative: "The net result is that the client can be condemned to a lifetime of medication, and many of them will shorten the client’s life span by as much as 20 years." What do you believe are the limitations of psychiatric treatment? Should people with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, be encouraged to employ treatments without medication, or should treatments only be selected in conjunction with medication?

(2) Many psychologists, such as Dean Simonton, have done studies on the interrelationship of creativity and mental illness. In the film, Jacks discusses this connection as it relates to her life. What about other character strengths in addition to creativity? Which character strengths are most important for people suffering from a mental illness to employ? What will help them become more resilient and triumph over their suffering? Is it the character strengths of hope, wisdom, spirituality, perseverance, zest, kindness, humor, or self-regulation that make the critical difference, or is it some intricate combination of these strengths?

Read the Review
ReviewMany People Labeled Mentally Ill Have Broken Hearts
By Larry M. Leitner and Hideaki Imai
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2011 Vol 56(10)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

What Film Would Win If Psychologists Gave Out Academy Awards?

APA The decision to add selected psychologically relevant films to PsycCRITIQUES (a practice introduced by E. G. Boring, the first editor of Contemporary Psychology) has been widely applauded, and many readers report they read the film reviews before turning to the more pedestrian reviews of books.

Some of the films that have been (or will be) reviewed in PsycCRITIQUES include The Secret in Their Eyes, Solitary Man, Black Swan, Peacock, Inception, The Social Network, Life During Wartime, Temple Grandin, Skin, and The Kids Are All Right.

If you were organizing awards for psychologically relevant films, which movies would you nominate?

Read the Reviews
ReviewNo Man Is an Island, or Is He?
By Meera Rastogi
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2011 Vol 56(8)
  • A review of the film Solitary Man
ReviewOf Two Minds
By Etzel Cardeña and Sophie Reijman
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2010 Vol 55(51)
  • A review of the film Peacock

ReviewThe Tenacity of an Idea
By Keith Oatley
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2010 Vol 55(50)
  • A review of the film Inception
ReviewA Life With Autism
By Donald Oswald
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2010 Vol 55(44)
  • A review of the film Temple Grandin

ReviewA Roller-Coaster of Intelligences
By Jeremy Clyman
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2010 Vol 55(49)
  • A review of the film The Social Network
ReviewMuddling Through
By Steven N. Gold
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2010 Vol 55(39)
  • A review of the film The Kids Are All Right

ReviewWhen She Was White: The Value of White Skin During Apartheid
      By Kellina M. Craig-Henderson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2010 Vol 55(43)
  • A review of the film Skin
By Keith Oatley
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2010 Vol 55(48)
  • A review of the film Life During Wartime

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Autism and Alternative Treatments

APA Dr. Donald Oswald, a renowned scholar in autism spectrum disorders, reviewed The Horse Boy, a film about a family who takes extensive measures to identify an alternative treatment for their son's autism. Oswald reviews the literature on complementary/alternative treatments for autism, including the use of animals in treatment (e.g., horses, dolphins, dogs), and he explores the issues parents confront as they search for miracles: "Faced with parents' desperate inclination to try any new intervention that is promulgated on TV or the Internet, clinicians are frequently called upon to take some stance."

As a clinician, have you had to take a stand in favor of or against a controversial treatment suggested by one of your clients? How did you approach the situation with your client?

Autism in particular has received significant media attention over the last decade. One of the issues raised and recently debunked has been the idea that vaccinations cause autism. How much of an impact do the media have on important decisions parents will make for their children? How might parents best balance contradictions from what they hear in the media and what health professionals say? What role do you, as a psychologist, have to play in this?

Read the Review
ReviewHorses and Autism
By Donald Oswald
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2011 Vol 56(6)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Revenge and Retribution

APA The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a poignant and gripping story, based on a widely popular novel from Swedish author Stieg Larsson. There are a number of relevant psychological themes in the film—revenge, trauma, aggression, and trait anger—each discussed by Lauren Seifert in her review of the film. After one protagonist, Lisbeth, is abused and raped, she seeks revenge in a similar manner—surprising, aggressive, and brutal. Seifert cites research in her review that "one of the most important aspects of revenge is the avenger's expectation that the message of retribution will be understood by the other party." Do you agree? In your experience, is this the key psychosocial aspect of revenge? If you viewed this film, is there a parallel process akin to satisfaction that occurs for you as the viewer witnessing Lisbeth get her revenge? What is the meaning behind such occurrences?

Read the Review
ReviewAbsorbing Loathing
By Lauren S. Seifert
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2010 Vol 55(37)

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

A Horrific Dilemma

APA In so many films these days, the use of violence is gratuitous—there to shock viewers and to sell tickets. The acclaimed French film A Prophet appears to be a notable exception. PsycCRITIQUES film reviewers Gabriel Rupp and James Atkison describe one particularly violent scene this way: "This scene, like so many in the movie, is neither a Tarantino-esque cartoon of violence nor a slick, film noir realism, but rather something hurtful, disturbing, and inevitable." What do you believe is the purpose and meaning of the violence in this film?

Rupp and Atkison explain,

[T]he film is what we call a successful failure in that it presents all too accurately the human condition in a world of uncertainty, violence, and suffocating social roles. The success is in the director's masterful choice of very human actors living out prescribed roles. The failure, we believe, is in current society itself, where underneath the surface of civilization lurks the bestial, the violent.
Part of this poignant description emerges from a major plot device in the film in which the protagonist, Malik, finds himself in a situation where he must murder a fellow prisoner in order to save his own life. How is the director commenting on today's society by presenting this dilemma? Do you believe Malik had exhausted his options? What psychological mechanisms must be employed to commit such an act? How might you have handled the situation?

Read the Review
ReviewA Prophet: A Study in the Dialogics of the Social and the Psychological
By Gabriel V. Rupp [and] James Atkison
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2010 Vol 55(33)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Coping Mechanisms as Depicted on the Screen

APA In a review of the psychological drama/thriller The Lovely Bones, Ngoc Bui discusses several themes in the film, including bereavement and loss. Bui cites research describing two types of bereavement stressors that are readily apparent in the film: "Loss-oriented stressors involve the primary stressors in losing a loved one…the restoration-oriented stressors include denial and avoidance of the grief and dealing with the psychosocial changes or transitions in regard to identity or roles that accompany the loss."

Are these the main types of stress the family experiences in the loss of the young girl? What are the healthy and the unhealthy coping mechanisms they display? How does the serial killer cope with the loss?

Read the Review
ReviewLetting Go and Moving on
By Ngoc H. Bui
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2010 Vol 55(17)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Why Do We Laugh?

APA In his review of the quirky French comedy Welcome to the Sticks (2008), Keith Oatley notes this film is "not of the kind in which one might laugh at someone slipping on a banana skin. Instead the director and actors have contrived a joining-in-together laughter, in which they take part." He goes on to comment on the film in the context of an early 20th century philosopher's take on why people laugh—that laughter is completely human, that we do not laugh unless we are a bit detached, and that laughter is social so we only laugh when we are in touch with others. How well do you believe these ideas hold true? How might you expand or edit these points? What other key principles would you add based on the latest science?

Read the Review
ReviewJust for a Laugh
By Keith Oatley
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2009 Vol 54(45)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Self-Regulation on the Silver Screen

APA In our review of the widely popular film Twilight, Jeremy Clyman and I take a closer look at the character strength of self-regulation, one of the least endorsed strengths across the world and one of the least portrayed in film. One of the film's protagonists, Edward Cullen, is a paragon for self-regulation in the way in which he maintains exquisite, healthy control of his emotions, impulses, and instincts. We note:

Edward tries hard to display self-control as he faces a crescendo of challenges in which he must continue to develop his "muscle" of self-control. Numerous scenes show him resisting. Although he struggles honestly, exclaiming, "I still don't know if I can control myself," he is successful in his efforts.
Is self-control a strength that can easily be built up? What are the best ways for a therapist to help a client enhance their self-control/self-regulation?

What makes this such a popular film?

The second film in this series, New Moon, just arrived in various cities around the world. Does Edward's character strength of self-regulation/self-control continue as strongly through this film as well? What evidence do you see to support your view?

Read the Review
ReviewTemperance: The Quiet Virtue Finds a Home
By Ryan M. Niemiec [and] Jeremy Clyman
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2009 Vol 54(46)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Is Genius Mad?

APA One of the long-standing debates in discussions relating to psychopathology, clinical psychology, developmental psychology, and creativity surrounds the relationship between mental illness and creativity. Indeed, there is some connection but to what extent are they related? Is there a typical psychological makeup or certain diagnoses to which this link is most prominent? Which comes first: madness or genius? Does one cause the other? One individual that has forged ahead in examining these issues over the decades is creativity researcher and luminary Dean Keith Simonton. In his review of two documentary films that offer some insight on these issues, Between Madness and Art: The Prinzhorn Collection and Hidden Gifts: The Mystery of Angus MacPhee, Simonton begins the exploration with some questions of his own: "First, is genius born or made? Second, does a high IQ a genius make? And third, is genius mad?"

How would you respond to these questions? What research supports your perspective? Do you have any clinical case examples that support your views?

Read the Review
ReviewHow Thin Is the Partition? Where Does It Reside?
By Dean Keith Simonton
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2009 Vol 54(26)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire is a Winner

APA David Wall and Jacqueline Remondet Wall enthusiastically endorse Slumdog Millionaire as a film that psychologists should see. They note,

the strong emotional tie-in that [Director Danny] Boyle hits in almost every scene is the underdog status of the three protagonists. It is almost as if he were specifically referencing the underdog psychology research. Did we feel emotionally manipulated by Boyle's effort? Perhaps we did. Did we feel good and happy when we left the theater? Definitely we did. Do we recommend the film? By all means. It is definitely our pick for the Best Underdog Film for 2008 and maybe for all time.
Can psychological science help us understand the widespread international popularity of this film?

Read the Review
ReviewNominations for the Best Underdog Picture Are…and the Winner is…
By David G. Wall [and] Jacqueline Remondet Wall
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2009 Vol 54(8)

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)

Monday, December 15, 2008

When Is Sex Gratuitous?

APA Dean Keith Simonton, reviewing Ang Lee's film Lust, Caution, notes that "Although the story Lust, Caution (2007) centers on a heterosexual love affair, Lee pushes the limit in a different direction: Where Brokeback [Mountain] stayed within the bounds of an R-rated film, Lee thrusts Lust, Caution quite emphatically into NC-17 territory. The sex is not only explicit but brutal." Simonton later notes "explicit sex becomes far more artistically critical to the very extent that it departs dramatically from what we would usually expect on the silver screen."

When is sex in films essential, and when is it simply gratuitous?

Read the Review
ReviewPracticing Essential Cinematic Sex
By Dean Keith Simonton
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2008 Vol 53(50)

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Psychological Relevancy of the Love Story Genre

APA In her review of Feast of Love, Linda Young contends, "Viewers are given only superficial glimpses of the characters' histories … [and] … not given any indicators of how the characters work through the impasses and conflicts that are usually necessary to achieve relational growth. Growth and healing seem to happen spontaneously and magically."

Given that there are countless films that deal with love, but few that teach us about love itself, what are your criteria for a love film that is both psychologically relevant and educational? Does Feast of Love educate the viewer about important dynamics about love, or does it simply use love as an empty plot device?

Read the Review
ReviewFast-Food Love Feast
By Linda R. Young
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2008 Vol 53(43)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Are Children Almost Always Better Off with Their Biological Parents?

APA In her review of Gone Baby Gone, Kim Kirkland argues that even desperately poor children belong with their biological parents, and she cites the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights to support her position.

Does psychological science have anything to contribute to this debate? How do you feel about this?

Read the Review
ReviewParental Rights Are Human Rights
By Kimberly Kirkland
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2008 Vol 53(25)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Is Clint Eastwood Prejudiced?

APA In Kris Hagglund's review of Million Dollar Baby, he writes, "The disability community, by and large, has been incensed by this movie. It perpetuates the stereotype that people who experience a spinal cord injury, especially one that results in tetraplegia, would rather be dead—that life isn't worth living any longer. Maggie says "I can't be like this, not after what I done. People chanted my name. I want to die before I can't hear the voices." Maggie's plea is devastatingly romantic, reminiscent of other tragedies (e.g., Romeo and Juliet). However, the simple truth of the matter is that individuals who sustain traumatic, body-altering injuries do not want to die. Filmmakers and other artists have historically and irresponsibly perpetuated this myth."

How do you feel about Maggie's decision to die rather than to continue to cope with the limitations associated with her spinal cord injury?

Read the Review
ReviewMillion Dollar Baby: An Oscar's Worth of Grit
By Kristofer J. Hagglund
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2005 Vol 50(36)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Do Diagnoses Really Matter in Films?

APA In his review of Lars and the Real Girl, Larry Leitner notes, “Lars, a tender and decent man [would] probably earn a DSM diagnosis of schizoid, avoidant, or perhaps even schizotypal personality disorder.”

What diagnosis would you give Lars?

Read the Review
ReviewHealing Through Relationship
By L. M. Leitner
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2008 Vol 53(35)

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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