Is Norman Bates a Realistic Psychopath?
How Movies Portray Psychopaths and How Psychologist Can Use Movies to Help with a diagnosis.
I have studied the movies and the creative career of Alfred Hitchcock with a fascination that help prepare me for my TV interviews on HLN analyzing suspected Murderers. I have written extensively about narcissism and find this research fascinating. If you like the article you may want to pick up the nonfiction book The Murder Room about a real life secret society of experts who solve cold case murders. But don't, absolutely don't read the book in bed and then try to go to sleep.
Is Norman Bates a realistic psychopath?
Pycho's psycho leaves a lot to be desired.
At least that's the conclusion of a new study that tried to determine realistic portrayals of psychopathic behavior on the silver screen. According to forensic psychiatrists Samuel Leistedt and Paul Linkowski, who led a team that studied hundreds of films, Norman Bates was too delusional and disconnected from reality to qualify as being a psychopath. The world's most famous mama's boy, if they had to diagnosis him, was more psychotic than psychopathic.
Bates isn't alone. Psychopathy isn't what most movies make it out to be, Leistedt and Linkowski say, and most psychos in film, especially in the medium's early days, are either caricatures or based on a poor or incomplete understanding of the disorder. And because the definition of psychopathy has changed over the years, movie psychos from one era might be diagnosed differently today.
To gauge the realism of movie psychos and see how their portrayals have evolved, Leistedt and Linkowski put together a team of forensic psychiatrists and movie critics to watch 400 movies dating from 1915 to 2010. The majority of psychopathic characters were ignored because they had magical powers, were nonhuman, or were otherwise way too unrealistic. The 126 characters that were left got a closer look from the team to find the most accurate psychopaths.
Aside from giving screenwriters and actors an idea of what they're doing right or wrong, the researchers hope that their work can be a useful teaching tool for psychology and psychiatry students. Diagnosing and recognizing psychopathy isn't easy, and very few students will get to see the real deal during their training. A library of the best movie psychos could be the next best thing — and a lot safer.
Here are a few of the movie psychopaths that the study deemed realistic, and those that were the stuff of fantasy.
2. Gordon Gekko, Wall Street. "One of the most interesting, manipulative, psychopathic fictional characters to date," say Leistedt and Linkowski. "Successful psychopaths" and "corporate psychopaths" like Gekko are getting more attention from filmmakers and clinicians alike in the wake of global economic crisis, and the researchers expect to see more figures like this pop up in both movies and newspaper headlines.
3. Henry, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The title character, inspired by real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, shows a "powerful lack of empathy, emotional poverty, and a well-illustrated failure to plan ahead" that faithfully reflects the lack of stability in a psychopath's life.
4. Hans Beckert, M. "One of the first, rarest, and more realistic" portrayals before the 1960s, the character is an "outwardly unremarkable man tormented by a compulsion to murder children ritualistically, which is a substantially more realistic depiction of what would eventually be known today as a sexually violent predator (SVP)."
A little too crazy
2. Hannibal Lecter, Silence of the Lambs. "Lecter is an exceptionally intelligent sophisticated socialite, whose disarming charisma, erudition, civility, and wit disguise his true nature," Leistedt and Linkowski say — and that's not a combination you'll often find in the real world. Lecter is not only an unrealistic psychopath, but also a poor depiction of a psychiatrist. He's "an extraordinarily astute clinician who can diagnose Jodie Foster's psychological conflicts by identifying her perfume and assessing her shoes and clothing with Holmesian accuracy." These abilities, Leistedt and Linkowski dryly note, "are not generally found in everyday clinical practice."
Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at www.PattiWood.net. Check out Patti's website for her new book "SNAP, Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma" at www.snapfirstimpressions.com. Also check out Patti's YouTube channel at http://youtube.com/user/bodylanguageexpert.