Psychological Principles in the Breakfast Club

Published: 2021-08-24 19:55:08
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Social psychological principles are often placed into films and television shows to make them more realistic. Many of these principles are present within the popular film, The breakfast club. In this film, five students, Brian (the Brain), Andrew (the Athlete), Claire (the Princess), Allison (the Basket Case), and Bender (the Criminal), spend a Saturday together in detention for various reasons that are revealed throughout the movie. The students are initially unfamiliar with each other and the film follows them as they go from being uncomfortable around each other to enjoying each other’s company. Throughout their time together, normative social influence, frustration-aggression, and stereotyping occur.
Toward the end of the film, Bender goes off to smoke and one by one the other students decide to join him. However, Allison resists and does not join in. This scene demonstrates normative social influence (NSI), often associated with peer pressure. It is essentially the act of conforming to be liked or accepted by others. NSI leads to public compliance, not private acceptance. In other words, this phenomenon does not often lead to attitude change. This principle was supported by the Asch experiment in which individuals were shown three lines and told to match a fourth line to one of the others. The individuals would give the wrong answer if others around them answered incorrectly, but while they were alone, they would answer correctly. In the film, the three students who chose to smoke with Bender probably think smoking is wrong, but they do not want to be rejected by the others in the group, so they decided to smoke anyway. Especially after Claire, who is very popular, decides to join in, Andrew and Brian have more motivation to do so. However, it is unlikely that this will change their opinion about smoking and they will probably not continue to smoke after leaving detention. NSI also occurs when Claire describes why she acts the ways she does. She mentions that she must go along with everything that her friends say and that she feels a large amount of pressure from them. She does not behave in the ways she does because she believes it is right to act that way. She behaves how she does because she fears that she will be rejected if she does not how her friends act. I feel as though this principle was accurately depicted because the examples of NSI incorporated in to this film are likely scenarios that high school students will be met with. These examples emphasize how much influence others can have over individuals especially when individuals fear rejection if they choose not to comply.
At one point in the film, Bender is pestering Claire about her sexual activity. Andrew does not like the fact that Bender is doing this and threatens to fight him. He ends up pinning Bender to the ground but nothing else happens. This demonstrates frustration-aggression. Frustration is defined as a gap between what is expected and what actually happens. In other words, there is a contradiction between expectation and reality. According to Dollard and Millard’s Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis, frustration increases the likelihood for an aggressive response. This response can either be direct, toward the person or thing that caused the frustration, displaced, toward a person or thing that did not cause the frustration, or vicarious, thoughts of performing an aggressive act. Andrew is upset with Bender for picking on Claire. He asks him to stop, but Bender keeps going. Andrew acts aggressively toward Bender because he expects his verbal warnings to stop Bender, but they do not. Thus, he gets frustrated, threatens to fight Bender, and eventually pins him to the ground. This is an example of direct aggression because Andrew takes out his aggression directly on Bender who caused his frustration.
However, Andrew’s frustration with his home life, specifically the pressures he feels from his father, may have added to his need to respond aggressively. This would be an example of displaced aggression. Another example of this principle is shown during the scene in which Bender talks about his home life and how terrible it is. After Andrew accuses him of lying, he aggressively knocks the books off of a table. This is an example of displaced aggression since it was not the books that caused Bender to be frustrated. Bender’s act of aggression supports the idea that relative deprivation can lead to aggression. It is in this scene that all the other students have food to eat, but Bender does not. Bender is reminded that the other students have better home lives than he does, which is reinforced by the fact that Andrew does not even believe him when he describes what his home life is like. When he realizes that his home life differs from those around him and could be much better, he gets frustrated and becomes aggressive. I feel as though both aggressive reactions were somewhat mild and could have been more aggressive, especially Bender’s. However, the principle was depicted well. It is clear that there are contradictions between expectation and reality that lead Andrew and Bender to become frustrated and then act aggressively. Furthermore, having Bender act aggressively when he is deprived of food helps to emphasize the relative deprivation theory.
In the beginning of the movie, Brian’s voice can be heard reading an essay to Principal Vernon. He points out that Principal Vernon sees the five students as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal and that the students saw each other this way at the beginning of the day. This is an example of stereotyping. Stereotyping is cognitive and occurs when people are thought of as having the characteristics of a specific group and not thought of as individuals. Stereotyping in and of itself is not a terrible thing, but when it leads to discrimination, acting negatively toward or harming a member of a group solely based on their membership to that group, it can become very problematic. Discrimination is not apparent in the film. Instead of considering the personalities of the individual students, Principal Vernon saw the students as belonging to certain cliques, all of which have certain generalizations made about them. The students also saw each other this way, at least at the beginning of the day. Furthermore, the ways in which the students interact with their parents, at the beginning of the film reinforce these stereotypes to the viewer. Stereotyping also occurs when Bender says that he is not surprised that Andrew is smart because he is a wrestler. He doesn’t really know Andrew, but associates wrestlers with being smart, so he concludes that Andrew must be smart too. Bender also links being involved in school activities with being a jerk.
He doesn’t consider what activity someone is involved in. According to Bender, if someone is involved in a school activity they are jerks. Again, he would ignore the personalities of individual students and judge them solely based on their participation in school activities. This principle is an important component within the film, and I feel as though it was presented successfully. Each of the students is portrayed as fitting in to a particular group and given characteristics associated with those groups. The groups represented in the film are common ones seen in high schools. The ways in which the five students interact show that they accept these stereotypes. These interactions would be similar to those in a typical high school. Students from different groups would likely have little interaction with each other, depending on the size of the school, outside of forced interaction, such as within the classroom or detention. Furthermore, the perceptions about those in other groups would likely consider their membership to the group and not individual characteristics.
Within The breakfast club, incorporation of the principles of normative social influence and stereotyping help simulate a high school environment very similar to one that would exist in real life. Incorporating frustration-aggression allows Bender and Andrew to be portrayed with reactions that would likely occur. Thus, making these characters appear more realistic. Incorporating these social psychological principles in to The breakfast club, and television shows makes the film more relatable for viewers because they are able to connect more with the setting and characters as a result of the presence of principles encountered in real life.

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