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4 Cliché Movie Moments Explained by Psychology

Damsels in Distress

Whether it's blatant sexism within the film industry or a much bigger and more blatant sexism of our culture, guys like the idea of saving a beautiful woman from something dangerous and then being alone with her. The plot is rehashed in hundreds of movies, video games and books that predate either by centuries. Movies like Legend, Spider-Man andIndiana Jones all scratch that itch for men, but they also inadvertently suggest that women, in the face of danger, turn into fragile, sentient bags of meat that are only capable of speaking and sometimes crying. Well guess what, ladies -- science agrees 100 percent.

It doesn't really matter what the caption is, you're already mad.

The psychology behind it:

Well that's not entirely true. Science loves and respects you. It did, however, conduct a study that found women respond differently to immediate peril than men. The study measured brain activity in both sexes when confronted with perceived danger and it sparked very different parts of the brain for each. Men's brains showed increased activity in the part of the brain responsible for instinctive functions like breathing and heart rate, essentially preparing the body to fight or run the hell away.

Mostly to run away.

In women, the portion of the brain dealing with pleasure and pain showed more activity. No one is quite sure why it triggers different parts of the brain in each sex, but the area that showed the most activity in women's brains is also linked more closely to memory, which could suggest that women are better at recognizing a dangerous situation and avoiding it altogether, whereas men will blindly walk into the same bad scenarios over and over. But even if women have a particularly strong memory for dangerous situations, it may not actually matter at all because it also turns out we are subconsciously drawn to our fears.

Walking into Dark Rooms

One of the most frustrating aspects of horror movies is the innate idiocy of the characters. They walk down stairs they should never walk down, they go in rooms no one should ever go in and they have sex in woods where no one has any business sexing. The massive death toll in horror films isn't generally a product of the killer's genius, but the senselessness of his victims as the shuffle directly into conspicuous traps while shouting over a faulty flashlight, "Is anyone there?" Yet even though it seems ridiculous that anyone would willingly walk into a creepy, dark house that's notorious for spitting out corpses, it's entirely possible that if you were in the same situation, you would do the same damn thing.

"What if there's some nudity in there? I'm gonna risk it."

The psychology behind it:

While it certainly pays as a species to avoid the terrible things of which we are afraid, we as humans are also capable of recognizing that some of our fears are completely stupid. We then have the ability to habituate to fear and therefore overcome it. Habituation is essentially just the desensitization to any stimuli, whether that be good or bad stimuli, and it's happening to you every day. You may notice that horror movies that used to scare you as a child aren't quite as terrifying anymore. Your constant exposure to the horror makes it difficult for the movie to surprise you with novel stimuli. Well the same thing happens with all the fears and phobias in your daily life as well.

What's more, there's a tangible feeling of reward when you overcome a phobia by exposing yourself to it, and that activates the pleasure center in your brain. Avoiding fears, on the other hand, can fill you with a sense of failure and unhappiness. Psychologist Dr. Noam Shpancer from Psychology Today writes,

"When you avoid something that scares you, you tend to experience a sense of failure. Every time you avoid a feared object or situation, your anxiety gains strength while you lose some. Every time you avoid the feared object or situation, you accumulate another experience of failure and another piece of evidence attesting to your weakness."

As a result, the reward of habituation and the failure of avoiding phobias gradually make us addicted to finding and facing new fears. Presumably, it's comparable to standing on the edge of a cliff and feeling the urge to jump -- you know the consequences would be catastrophic, but there's something inside you that says, "Just try it, pussy."

"What's the worst that could happen?"

The characters in horror movies are compelled to explore dark basements and sinister forests, not because they want to assure themselves that their fear is ridiculous, but because they don't like being called a pussy by their insides any more than you do. Also, if your guts are more sexist than science, you should get that checked out.

Be sure to check out more from Soren in 4 Gritty Reboots of 80s Cartoons for Girls and 5 Products that Will Be Exposed as B.S. in 2011.

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Soren Bowie

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