The Matrix and Psychology

For my Intro to Psych class, we had to evaluate a movie based on principles of social psychology. I chose to look at the first Matrix.

I have already turned in the assignment, so I am not looking for “homework help” or the like. I was just curious if anyone agreed/disagreed with my points, or if I could’ve done something better.

Or maybe there is just something I hit on that you want to talk about. This is one of those rare times where intelligent discussion is more appetizing than…say a 14 oz. steak.

I guess I ought to post the paper:

I chose to write about this movie for several reasons. One is because it is one of my all time favorites. Secondly, it has numerous examples of behavioral, physiological, and mental aspects of psychology that can be readily examined. It was a great movie to find theories to analyze, not to mention having a great entertainment value along with it. The majority of the theories that I will utilize are theories of social interaction, which include both intrinsic and extrinsic factors of social psychology.
Initially I would like to discuss one character from the movie. The character portrayed by Keanu Reeves, is initially known as Mr. Thomas Anderson, a computer programmer, but in actuality, he is also living a life as a computer hacker under the alias “Neo”. The most predominant social psychology principle that applies to Reeves’ character is that of informational influence. To give a brief background, Neo is “awoken” from a simulation of what life is, to the harsh reality that is the exact opposite of everything he has ever known. Neo experiences all the telltale characteristics of being thrust into a new environment and culture, including denial, acceptance, etc. The reason informational influence plays a part is because Neo is motivated by the belief that these individuals who brought him to the “real world” are correct. This belief is, by definition, what is known as informational influence.
Now I would like to analyze ten different events, characters, and ideas portrayed in the movie that relate to specific theories in psychology. The first is an example of divided attention, which is described as the ability to distribute one’s attention to two or more activities simultaneously. In many scenes throughout “The Matrix”, Neo, Morpheus and Trinity engage in hand to hand combat. What is important to note about this combat is that they are not focusing on a solitary objective, but rather several. In the beginning, Trinity is not only trying to defend herself, but in addition, she is communicated with a team that is helping her escape. Thus she is trying to accomplish several goals simultaneously.
The second notion of social psychology that I wish to address is also inherent in the many martial arts combat scenes. This time, there is a different aspect I wish to note. In the stages where Neo is being trained by Morpheus, they start fighting. Neo exemplifies a rather strong presence, which is heavily marked by achievement motivation. Neo attempts to outperform Morpheus, despite his obvious experience advantage. This is partially due to the expectations leveled upon Neo, but nevertheless, Neo is highly motivated to achieve.
Yet another aspect of fighting can be examined. As is apparent at this point, combat is not just physical competition, but an amalgamation of all sorts of mental, psychological, and physical facets. Another issue to consider is that of aggression, a primarily emotive concept. Specifically, we notice a presence of frustration-aggression hypothesis being shown in the fight scene between Morpheus and Neo. Neo is obviously upset and frustrated by his inability to conquer Morpheus. This causes Neo to exert even more energy and concentration, which ultimately leads to uncontrolled aggression. His end goal is compromised by this aggression.
Towards the ending of the movie, there is a scene in which Neo and Trinity enter the lobby of a building, armed with massive amounts of illegal weaponry and equipment. They are both aware of the imminent catastrophe that will be caused by this. They are prepared mentally and physiologically by what is known as the sympathetic nervous system. This allows them to meet the challenges ahead by seeking a “fight or flight” stance. The movie shows them taking the fight path, and they are that much more successful due to their physiological preparedness.
Beyond fighting, there is a great deal of material to be found in “The Matrix” regarding social psychology. The next aspect I would like note is that of social norms. Throughout the Matrix, which is a computer generated simulation of what life is like for humans; people act and react according to a computer programmed structure of societal rules and norms. These people act on the basis that they are indeed in the real world, and that the decisions they make are both irreversible and concrete. Despite the fact that these rules of society are fabricated, they are shown to a great extent in the movie.
Another interesting theory to examine in this movie is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We know that the top of the hierarchy is a term known as self-actualization. This is, in simple terms, the need one has to fulfill their own unique potential. Neo exhibits this need very early on by showing extreme interest regarding the Matrix and his role. He makes many sacrifices and decisions based upon this need of self-actualization.
Let me take a moment and examine the relationship of Neo and Trinity early on in the movie. Although it develops greatly later on, the initial relationship is that of acknowledgement of superiority in skill. Neo learns early on that Trinity was at one point a hacker more skilled than he, which is saying a lot. This information directly relates to the exhibition of the primacy effect. By definition, this leads Neo to form impressions of Trinity based on this information that is received early in their interactions.
As we see, Neo is the main focus of this entire movie. One of his well-portrayed characteristics is his personality style. One aspect that is very noticeable is that of hardiness. Neo undergoes events that would cause monumental stress to be heaped upon him. Yet due to his ability to control himself, accept his challenges, and stay committed to his purposes, he is able to safeguard from stress.
As is present in daily life, there is a great deal of non-verbal communication in “The Matrix”. The best example is towards the beginning when Neo is being interrogated by an Agent Smith, who denies him the right to speak. Using his powers within the Matrix, he makes it physically impossible for Neo to speak. At this point, Neo begins thrashing and moving about indecisively and rapidly. His body language clearly communicates several things such as the emotions of fear, and disgust.
The last theory is in regard to social influences. Neo realizes very early on that there is a need to understand what he is going through. As he comes to find out, his decisions regarding his situation with Morpheus and Trinity and being “freed” is very monumental. He uses a technique known as central route to persuasion. Neo carefully weighs the circumstances of his choice to leave the matrix and be freed of his captivity in a computer generated world.