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How Hitchcock’s PSYCHO Encourages Us to Be Media-Wise

Photo via Wikimedia Commons- Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho trailer

How Hitchcock’s PSYCHO Encourages Us to Be Media-Wise

By Movieguide® Staff

Alfred Hitchcock’s PYSCHO turns 62 years old in 2022 but still ranks among fan favorite and cinephiles’ list of great movies, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t require media-wisdom for some immorality and movie manipulation.

At the time of PSYCHO’s release in 1960, horror/thriller movie elements ushered in the wave of a plethora of similar projects.

In fact, PSYCHO actress Janet Leigh’s daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, followed in the footsteps of her mother as the star of the horror franchise HALLOWEEN.

Hitchcock’s PSYCHO birthed several movies about the late director and the characters in the movie such as the 2012 movie HITCHCOCK, documentary HITCHCOCK AND TRUFFAUT and the A&E series starring Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga (THE DEPARTED) titled BATES MOTEL.

With all the acclaim from both fans and cinephiles, here are two reasons to exercise your media discernment with PSYCHO…

In PSYCHO, the taxidermist Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) operates a motel with his mother. One night, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) looks to fill a vacancy while on the run with loads of cash. Crane eventually meets her demise at the hands of Bates’s mother (or is it…) halfway through the movie when she gets stabbed multiple times while taking a shower.

From the description of the plot alone, Christian viewers see some content concerns.

As Movieguide® Founder and Publisher Dr. Ted Baehr writes in The Culture Wise Family:

There have been hundreds of thousands of psychiatric, psychological, sociological, pediatric, and medical studies researching the effects of the mass media on behavior, including laboratory experiments, field experiments, correlational studies, and longitudinal studies. [i] So much research has been conducted in this area that many newspapers and top US government officials have concluded that the influence of the mass media on violent behavior is now irrefutable.

Most people are unaware of this research because we get so much of our information from television, and television and other media executives have a self-interest in not emphasizing their influence on human behavior, except to exploit it through commercials. …

Research into this area can be divided into deductive reasoning from prior principles and inductive reasoning from a set of specific observations. Using deductive reasoning, researchers posit the basic principles of human learning and then see if any of them predict a causal relation. Using inductive reasoning, researchers study the real-life behavior of a person after that person has been exposed to a measurable degree of excessive violence, pornography or other media influence.

There are several principles of learning from which experts deduce the influence of entertainment.

One is the principle of modeling. Research shows that children imitate, even from the moment of birth. Children follow the examples that are set for them, not only in real life, but also in literature. Parables are examples of teaching tales people have used to help children learn how to live. Research shows that the entertainment media provide “scripts” for a child’s future behavior.

Studies have looked at the real-life behavior of children and have counted their episodes of imitation of the violent or non-violent behavior.

In general, these laboratory studies demonstrate that when you present to children a filmed model of someone doing something, children are more likely to do that something after having seen the film. Experiments have shown that withdrawn children can even learn to socialize better if they are shown a video of a child gradually starting to make friends.

A second basic principle of learning is that the more one practices a behavior, the more ingrained it becomes. Even practice in imagination, or fantasy rehearsal, is an effective way of ingraining a pattern. For young children, dramatic play is the prototypical fantasy rehearsal method.

The third is the principle of reinforcement which holds that behavior that gets rewarded, gets repeated. Vicarious reinforcement also works. Characters in action and adventure movies are rewarded for their proficiency in violence. Often the reward for a male is the admiration of a beautiful woman.

The power of modeling, practice and reinforcement in human learning predict that media violence increases the likelihood of real-life violence.[i]

For these reasons, media wisdom when watching PSYCHO and other horror movies is paramount. This type of content is not acceptable for children who are still learning to process the world around them. Nor is it appropriate for adults who are sensitive to violence.

Discerning adults may be better able to consume movies like PSYCHO by asking themselves important questions in order discern the content.