Discussion | Do our movie choices define us?

by Pooja Mukherjee
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Dumbledore once told Harry Potter in the second book of the series, “It’s our choices, Harry, that show what we (truly) are, far more than our abilities.” While the wizard was referring to the difference between Potter and Tom Riddle (AKA the one who shall not be named), this line from the JK Rowling book applies to all the choices we make in our lives, including our movie choices. 
Very few clinical studies and research has been conducted to link our movie choices to our personality traits. However, the results of the limited research at our disposal are promising and seem to show a significant connection between the two. Let us find out how.

Personality traits of a person

Everyone must have taken the 16 personalities test by Myers Briggs to identify the type of personality they possess or their loved ones. As accurate as the different personality types may be, they are not absolute. For, human beings are complex creatures, whose personality traits change and adapt according to the surrounding situation. Even our choices as human beings, be it humane or cruel, change according to our situation. This part of the human beings was established in the highly controversial social psychology experiments at universities of Yale and Stanford. 

However, under normal circumstances and in the absence of strong stimuli (or dilemma), a person’s choices determine the type of person they are, as pointed out aptly by Dumbledore or J.K. Rowling. For instance, a timid person may choose to avoid new experiences, while an extrovert might choose to jump right in. Each choice shows the individual’s inner workings. Similarly, our movie choices (and the exposure to them) map out our inner psychology, making it easy for someone to figure us out or at the very least, know our social mask. 

The psychology of movie choices

To understand the psychology behind our choice of movies, we need to answer one basic question. Why do we watch movies?

The most common answers to this question would be:

  • For entertainment,
  • I’m bored,
  • To escape reality,
  • For knowledge, 
  • To relieve stress, 
  • To socialize, and
  • To gain validation

Each answer signifies a personality trait and the corresponding movie choices. It also hints at the inner psychology of an individual. Let us study each answer in detail.

1. For entertainment: A person who watches a movie for entertainment is likely to have a narrow range of movie preferences, which will only include movies he or she finds stimulating. As such, their choices may include comedy, action, thriller, etc., depending on their interests. For instance, a person under this category who loves science fiction may prefer movies like Star Wars, Martian, and Arrival.

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2. I’m bored: This is a person who is moody and has the tendency of growing out of things easily. His or her movie choices will tend to be eclectic, based on their current mood.

3. To escape reality: These are the most common type of movie watchers. Many of us choose to watch a movie to get away from the shackles of reality and choose movies dripping with fantasy elements. This group of people will most likely opt for science fiction, thriller, and anything fiction, even romance. However, they will probably avoid any movie with a tinge of reality and a sad ending, for they wish to remain happy. You will hear them say, “Why would I want to cry when I watch a movie?” or something similar.

Read more: Psychology of Escapism: Why do we run away from our reality?

4. For knowledge: We all have people of this group in our lives. The ones who prefer documentaries and docuseries over big-budget movies like Avengers. They want their brains to be stimulated as much as possible when watching a movie. A number of them with a penchant for problem-solving may even like mystery and thrillers.

5. To relieve stress: They are the epitome of everyday stress. Their release from the unsurmountable stress is through the celluloid. Therefore, their choice of movies, like the escapists, will be light-hearted, ranging from romantic-comedies and comedy to spoofs.

6. To socialize: We are all guilty of using movies as an excuse to hang out with friends or go on a date with our crush. These are the people who will choose a movie based on the general consensus and reviews. Very rarely do they watch a movie on their whim because they want company when watching the movie. As such, their choices most likely depend on those of their peers.

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7. To gain validation: This is probably the most vulnerable lot of movie watchers out there. Their choice of movies directly corresponds to the area of insecurity or their deepest desires. For instance, the hopeless romantics, who have been unlucky in love, in this lot will bee-line for romance and romantic comedy movies. Their gain here is hope that they too will get there.

However, as complex beings, our choices and answers coincide depending on our situation, interests, attitudes, perceptions, and intentions.

Can you really know a person through their movie choices?

Trying to know a person completely through their movie choice is similar to judging someone’s character based on zodiac signs or 16 personality tests. Research and experience have shown that human beings and their personalities cannot be categorized into boxes. As such, psychologists have shifted away from the personality type theory, choosing the more flexible personality trait theory instead. The latter follows an approach that counts in the possibility of an individual being anywhere on a personality gradient.

Similar to type theory, attempting to categorize individuals based on their movie choices is an attempt to fit a person into a box, which is bound to fail. We need to take into account the intention of a person and their social mask

It is inherently human to want validation from people around us and to create an impression on them. A majority of human beings are imprisoned by this need and make choices to satisfy the same. For instance, a man trying to impress a woman of his interest may claim he likes Rambo and Die Hard series when he doesn’t. 

Yet another aspect to consider is the effect of social conditioning on a person’s choices. It is a common belief that men need to be tough and macho, and therefore, there is a high probability of men associating their identity with these traits. This association may be false, leading to movie choices that conform to societal expectations but do not reflect their true personality. 

Included in this group are people who believe they need to like a certain type of movie to be perceived a certain way or end up lying to themselves that they like a movie when they do not. A prime example is Rachel Green from the 90s sitcom Friends, whose favorite movie was supposedly Dangerous Liaisons but is actually Weekend at Bernie’s.

These factors, along with the changing situations around an individual, making it difficult to judge a person’s character. However, you can get a feel of the person and perhaps predict the movies they may like or the movie choices they may make.

Conclusion

In the end, our movie choices do reveal our personalities, to a certain aspect. Similarly, our personality traits will define our choice of movies (or entertainment). However, neither are definite, for our experiences in life, the situation around us, and our intentions play a significant role in our choices. Therefore, it is best to not judge a person by his movie interests.

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