Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Fun: At the Movies With A Psychologist (Twilight Edition)

This past weekend I was among the fortunate viewers of Twilight: Breaking Dawn (part I). Now, you might be asking yourself, "Michael, you aren't a teenage girl, why are you watching Twilight?" My answer: It's my duty to report on psychological phenomena that I see at the movies-- and this duty applies to movies featuring forbidden love between human and vampire teenagers! I do it all for you, readers of Psych Your Mind!

First, let's give a summary of the plot of this film (Spoiler Alert): Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) are set to be married, and in this installment of the twilight saga, the preparations for the wedding  are in their final stages. During the wedding, there is some apprehension about whether or not the two should go through with the wedding. Friends are worried about whether the couple is marrying out of love (or because Bella is pregnant), family members are concerned about Vampire/Human compatibility, and Jacob (Taylor Lautner) seems jealous. Nevertheless, the couple gets married and is then off to a honeymoon in Brazil where they consummate the marriage. Things are going relatively well until suddently, Bella is pregnant!!! The rest of the movie focuses on whether the half-human half-vampire baby will end up killing her. This is all set to the backdrop of a war between werewolves and vampires. If it sounds confusing, well, I am still trying to sort out all the details.

What psychological construct is at play in this film? I think the film is actually a surprisingly accurate depiction of adult attachment patterns. If you aren't familiar, adult attachment patterns refer to styles of relating to significant others (e.g., romantic partners, parents, siblings) in one's life. In 1987, Cindy Hazan and Phil Shaver found empirical evidence for three separate attachment patterns:

Secure attachment (55% of adults in the USA): People with this form of attachment style tend to be comfortable with being close to others. In general, securely attached adults don't have persistent worries about being abandoned or loss of closeness with important people in their lives.

Avoidant attachment (25%): People with this form of attachment style tend to be uncomfortable with being close to others. Avoidantly attached adults tend to find it difficult to depend on and trust the important people in their lives.

Anxious-ambivalent attachment (20%): People with this form of attachment style tend to actively seek closeness and intimacy with others. However, while seeking intimacy, anxious-ambivalently attached adults tend to have fears of loss of intimacy or rejection from the important people in their lives.
I love you, but also fear I might eat you! (source)

What is Bella's attachment style? In my opinion, Bella's behavior with each of her close romantic partners (Jacob and Edward) places her high in anxious-ambivalent attachment. In terms of evidence, I saw one scene where Bella would seek intimacy from Edward, then an accompanying scene of her becoming fearful about what a human/vampire union would mean for her family (e.g., they might be eaten!). With Jacob, Bella exhibits the same type of anxious-ambivalent behavior: In the wedding scene Bella is happy sharing a dance with Jacob in one moment, and then terrified about whether he might start a war with the vampires in the next.

What is Edward's attachment style? The smart money says that Edward is avoidantly attached. Edward seems to be perpetually worried about getting too close to Bella. I believe this stems from the fact that he is a freakin' vampire, and at any moment he, or a member of his family, might try to eat her.

So there you have it! An interpretation of attachment styles through a casual viewing of the Twilight saga. I'd love to hear your comments about attachment patterns in other popular films! 

Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52 (3), 511-524 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.52.3.511


  1. very cool. i did a similar actvity using episodes of gossip girl that i made myself watch in the name of science and relevant applied theory. shudder.

  2. Thanks for putting science first, PSI!

  3. If you haven't seen this already, it is pretty dang funny: "The Oatmeal: How Twilight Works"