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Psychology at the movies

14 December 2016 | by Peter Kinderman

Albert Camus once said said: “Psychology is action, not thinking about oneself.”

And yet sometimes psychologists (indeed, all academics) are guilty of speaking into an echo chamber populated solely by their colleagues… and then of wondering why they are failing to influence the outside world.

And sometimes artists are better at promoting psychology than psychologists themselves.

So I took myself off to the movies on Thursday, to the Regent Street Cinema, now part of the University of Westminster, location for the first ever public screening of moving pictures in the UK, and home of ‘Psychology at the Movies’.

Our movie for the evening was ‘Black Swan’ – perhaps an obvious choice to stimulate a discussion about performance, the arts, and obsession (exactly the sorts of things which excite psychologists) – with an audience of around 160.

My principal delight was the fact that the vast majority of the audience was composed of non-psychologists and, although we did have a panel discussion after the show, the star contributor was himself a professional dancer, sharing the stage with a psychologist.

This was a wonderful evening of culture and conversation; thinking together about how we negotiate passion, control, emotion and failure. There was some injection of psychological science – but this served only as a helpful or interesting addition to the conversation, offering expertise to add value rather than parochially defending the limits of professionalism – and ultimately there was more discussion from the audience than from the ‘experts’ on stage

I was very impressed by the ‘psychology at the movies’ concept and feel like we should be doing more of this kind of thing.

My only – entirely gratuitous – reservation is that we had a full house of 160 people on Thursday, and yet we were within yards of the BBC headquarters at New Broadcasting House, with their audiences counted in the hundreds of millions.

Yes, we’re doing OK at the business of making academic psychology relevant to everyday life, but we could be doing even more, and we could be being even more creative in our engagement!

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