Cinema Psychology: Crash
The movie Crash explains social psychology concepts through stereotypes and people’s relationships. It touches on many social psychological concepts and theories through the representation of American society’s racial diversity and discrimination. The American community contains many races. This diversity, although culturally beneficial, can in some cases lead to conflict. The movie examines a group of different people living in Los Angeles and the social system, which are their social relationships as they come into contact with each other. The characters are reprehensive of American society as they are chosen to show the diversity in the city and there are people representative of the Los Angeles community. The main themes of the movie, which all the rest of the concepts communicate around are discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping.
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The movie displays the fundamental attribution error concept, also called the correspondence bias, describes, “The tendency, in explaining other people’s behavior, to overestimate personality factors and underestimate the influence of the situation. (Wade and Tavris, pg 338) This concept portrays racism from both sides. While White people, represented by Sandra Bullock, assume that all African Americans, as well as Latinos as dangerous, the African Americans, represented by Ludacris, assume that all White people are racist. In both cases, they are stereotyping people’s intentions and their nature because of their race. In addition to race, a person’s physical image can also create stereotypes which is “a summary impression of a group in which a person belives that all members of the group share a common trait or traits (Wade and Tavris, Pg 352) Ludacris is portrayed as a bald guy with tattoos all over his body. His physical appearance also contributes to Sandra Bullock’s stereotype of him as a gangbanger because that is the mental representation she has of these types of people.
The Self-fulfilling prophecy theory is also seen in the movie through Sandra Bullock and Ludacris’s relationship. Self-fulfilling prophecy is an expectation that is fulfilled because of the tendency of the person holding it to act in ways that bring it out (Wade and Tavris, Page 493) This was seen when Ludacris noticed that Sandra bullock was afraid of him, and so he attacked her and her husband and hijacked their car. On the other hand, African Americans in the movie, especially Ludacris, assumed that all White people were racists, which is also a fundamental attribution error, as they attributed certain characteristics to people based on generalization. Another social concept that was seen in this example is peer pressure. Ludacris’s friend gave in to peer pressure, the influence exerted by peers upon each other to behave a certain way, when he let Ludacris convince him to hijack Bullock’s car.
Another social relationship that portrayed racial stereotypes was Mat Dillon’s Cop character and his partner officer Hansen. While Dillon was portrayed as a racist character, his partner was not racist. That however did not stop him from getting affected by Matt Dillon’s points of view. His automatic thinking led him to hastily shoot a black man hitchhiker because he thought he was pulling a gun from his pocket when he was pulling a small statue of a saint. This was mainly due to priming, which is “a method for analyzing implicit memory in which a person reads or listens to information and is later tested to see whether the information affects performance on another type of task” (Wade and Tavris, Pg 213) If Mat Dillon had not primed his opinions on Hansen, perhaps he would not have automatically shot the man and assumed bad conduct and threat. Through this storyline we see how stereotypes develop. Although Hansen is not racist, one experience he had with an African American made him think that they are all the same, dangerous. The movie discuses how discrimination becomes a stereotype out of habit. We are shown the evolution of stereotypes throughout the movie. As the stereotype begins initially as just the way people perceive each other, it develops into death threats by the end of the movie.
Ryan Philippe displays blunt bystander apathy, where in crowds when someone is in trouble, individuals often fail to take action or call for help because they assume that someone else will do so (Wade and Tavris, Page 347). Ryan does that during the search, as does the husband. The bystander apathy is shown through Ryan Philippe who displays altruism throughout the movie apart from the end. The husband, Terrence Howard, has a bystander effect as well during the first encounter with the police. This changes however, the second time where he shows a misattribution of arousal because he has mixed up feelings and nothing had happened where he had done something wrong in front of the police but he was still furious at the police because of the first encounter, which is why he is mad for no reason the second time.
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The many social psychology concepts in the movie are represented through the characters. For example, the locksmith, Michael Peña, shows an altruistic personality throughout the whole movie. He prefers to help others with no benefit, and sometimes even a cost to himself. Also, Sandra Bullock represents self-awareness by the end of the movie, as she realizes her personality and that gets angry all the time. She becomes more aware of her actions and behavior. The ‘feel good do good’ theory is shown through Ludacris’s when he frees the Asians from the van, and then laughs out of joy. By helping someone else, he put himself in a good mood.
Survival instinct is portrayed in the movie through Ludacris and his friend’s accident. After they run over a man, they deliberated helping him at first because they could have gotten into trouble. This act of pro social behavior was done as a result of the “feel bad, do good” concept. Their guilt because of what they did made them stop and help him, as well as their desire to save themselves from the trouble they could get into if they are caught. Racism is further portrayed through Matt Dillon’s partner when he goes to the African American chief of police to complain about Dillon’s racist actions against black civilians. The chief refuses to take action because he fears that the racist system of the police department would take away his job. Furthermore, the concept of appraisal theory (Wade and Tavris, Pg 457) is portrayed through Sandra Bullock’s fear, and refusal to express it. As a result, she got attacked with a gun and then goes on to make a social cognition, which is defined as “how people’s perceptions of themselves and others affect their relationships and how the social environment influence thoughts beliefs and values” (Wade and Tavris, Pg 338) and another fundamental attribution error about the locksmith changing the key and going to sell it.
Tavris, Carol, and Carole Wade.Invitation to Psychology. 5th ed. 2011. eBook.
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