There are certain rules that extend across nearly every movie universe which we as an audience have to accept. Bad guys will always attack one at time, high school girls will always date a guy they fundamentally hate and pedestrians will never end up in wheel wells during car chases. While the rules may seem completely divorced from reality, some of the more staggering clichÃ©s actually have science on their side. Still, the fact that these seemingly illogical movie moments have real-world explanations is less a demonstration of genius on the part of the script writers and more a testament to their blind luck as they accidentally stumbled onto legitimate scientific concepts. So don't celebrate yet, Hollywood, there's still a ton of shit you're doing wrong, these are just four examples where you happened to get it right, despite yourselves.
"Mmmm, I'm full off of all your collective disappointment."
One of the most ubiquitous clichÃ©s in film, the slow clap shows up so often and across so many genres of movies that entire compilations have been created in its honor.
Its power lies in the slow clap's ability to sway the opinion of an entire crowd, not with words or ideas, but with the sound of two pieces of flesh slamming against each other. The slow clap generally follows the protagonist having an, "I'm just being honest for a second" moment in front of an audience. While everyone stares on horrified (everyone in movies presumably hates honesty), one person begins to clap. Somehow, that sound alone is enough to convince everyone else that, oh yeah, they also enjoyed that crazy bullshit that just happened. Gradually it swells into a massive applause as the opinion of everyone in attendance shifts 180 degrees simultaneously. The slow clap as a concept seems absurd; an entire crowd of people convinced they like something just by hearing one person clap is insulting to human intelligence. Oh, and it turns out it happens to crowds all the time.
Even the most opinionated and judgmental people in the world are susceptible to the power of group mentality. Arguably the most prominent researcher in crowd psychology, Gustave Le Bon suggested that when people come together in crowds, they start to identify with the group at large instead of as an individual. The opinions of the crowd become the opinions of each person like a mass hypnosis.
"A phenomenon of which it is easy to establish the presence but which it is not easy to explain. It must be classed among those phenomena of a hypnotic order. In a group every sentiment and act is contagious, and contagious to such a degree that an individual readily sacrifices his personal interest to the collective interest. This is an aptitude very contrary to his nature, and of which man is scarcely capable except when he makes part of a group."
In other words, every minute change in the crowd has a ripple effect on the collective conscious and can determine the thoughts and opinions of the rest of the group. While this sometimes manifests itself in riots or acts of violence, the slow clap is a decidedly more positive symptom of mob mentality. A single person clapping in a crowd can immediately trigger the same response from everyone else because they are subconsciously serving the interest of the group, until finally, everyone is in unified agreement that they love whatever just happened.
Even if they can't remember what the hell it was.
Sometimes in the middle of a movie a protagonist has to lock himself in a bathroom, splash a little water on his face and have a quick one-on-one with himself in the mirror. It usually happens when he's faced with a ethical decision; Vincent Vega talks himself out of sleeping with Mia Wallace in
"C'mon, what's the worst that a couple of business men would ask me to do?"
In reality, hashing things out with a reflection would seem silly if not a little crazy. Most people haven't talked to themselves in a mirror since they were children. Yet, it turns out that more people probably ought to face themselves when dealing with a decision of principle, because it actually works.
Studies have been conducted on both children and adults to determine how confrontation with our own reflections affects our morality. One self reflection study conducted on Halloween gave kids the opportunity to grab candy out of unsupervised bowls. The bowls were exactly the same at separate houses on the same street; the only difference was that one bowl had a mirror behind it. As a result, the children were significantly less likely to steal candy when they had to look at their own reflections even though they were wearing costumes. A similar test was also done on adults at a news stand who paid for newspapers on the honor system. The results were nearly identical; we are all more likely to act morally while confronted with our own faces.
"I slept with Chris before you were dating, and once during. Break a leg tonight!"
So while the mirror pep-talk provides a nice cinematic analogy; the protagonist faces his physical reflection and through it can re-calibrate his personality, our minds really do work that way. We as a species just make better decisions when we have to look ourselves in the eye as we do it. So if you know someone who got rid of every mirror in his house for the sake of feng shui, then congratulations, you finally have a legitimate reason to suspect he may be terrible person.
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
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.
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.