The Psychology of Entertainment
On the private and public forms of entertainment and the psychological mechanisms in entertainment
Entertainment has many dimensions and could be personal/private or more general and public forms of entertainment. When we play with our mates that is a personal form of entertainment and when we sit and watch a movie on the screen that is a more general form of entertainment as we are sharing the experience with many others. There are some differences in our perception of private and public forms of entertainment as personal entertainment will always be based on personal experiences, our personal worldview and will be determined by personal interactions.
The more general and public forms of entertainment are less interactive and there seems to be this basic contradiction as all personal forms of entertainment are more interactive and public forms of entertainment are more personal and private. This scenario has been changing with television programs increasing audience participation in the program however interaction patterns between entertainers and viewers in any public entertainment scenario remain within strict limits and boundaries.
Entertainment takes us to a different world and feeds our need for fantasy and an escape from real life. This is especially true for entertainment that is more public or provided by the media and entertainment provided by films, theatre, music, and all forms of creative art. Films and theatre transposes us to a world of fantasy and grabs our attention so we remain engrossed as almost a part of this alternative reality. Entertainment could also be in the form of magazine stories and gossip or even celebrity culture and the psychology of entertainment could also explain the extreme craze of celebrity culture that we have in the modern world.
Celebrities seem to open up a world of fantasies and for some people knowing every move of celebrities could bring immense satisfaction as it would almost mean participating in fantasies. Fantasies help in overcoming frustrations and serve as therapeutic as they aid in the escape from realities of life. Real emotions and real life are stressful and entertainment helps us to move beyond real life and moments of stress to participate in fantasies that are soothing as we do not have to be directly involved in these fantasies and yet as spectators we can still participate in a tacit or passive manner.
Participation in any book, film or creative art is almost like sitting on a reclining chair that has the technology to soothe your muscles while you relax. In the case of entertainment we participate almost in a passive manner and although we may be very alert and awake in the process of watching a movie, entertainment gives us the illusion of non participation as we don’t have the opportunity to get voluntarily involved in the scenario. Anything that gives us some form of pleasure could be considered as entertainment although entertainment could also give us pain as when we cry when we get emotionally involved with characters while we watch a movie.
Entertainment could trigger emotional involvement and emotional reactions such as happiness, sorrow, anxiety, fear and despite these strong emotional participation, there is little or no physical activity necessary on the part of the viewer. This active-passive process is the main attraction of entertainment as entertainment enables us to be both active (in terms of emotion) and passive (in terms of physical or voluntary mental involvement). Entertainment means like films are influential yet they influence subtly rather than aggressively and this subtle influence seems to work better on the human mind than any aggressive forms of influence. We see work as duty and entertainment as pleasure although both involve some form of emotional involvement. Work at the same time requires voluntary participation, decision making and physical involvement along with emotional involvement.
Yet why is work perceived as something heavy and entertainment as methods of relaxation? The answer is unpredictability. In case of entertainment, in most cases we may not even know what to expect from a movie or a music video. This unpredictability triggers our interest as we are unable to predict what emotional states would be evoked during this mental adventure. Entertainment is usually a form of mental and emotional adventure. In cases where we do know what a movie is about, it is the feeling of emotional familiarity that drives us to experience what we already know. Suppose a video game gave us a pleasurable feeling or evoked aggression and competitiveness in us, we go back to feel the same emotion as it was pleasurable or exciting. Stretched too far these forms of entertainment could easily become addictive.
Coming back to the distinction of work and entertainment or play, work involves responsibility and despite the emotional involvement in entertainment, apart from being a passive participant, we do not have to be responsible for anything, there is no problem solving or decision making and that is how entertainment in all its form is so pleasurable as the right brain activities of decision making and the cortical regions of the brain are not activated completely yet the pleasure sensations and emotions such as the hypothalamus and left brain activities are usually activated so we tend to associated entertainment with emotions rather than problem solving and decision making.
We humans are rational beings and yet emotions still seem to rule our lives and form the core of our existence as emotions still draw us to do things that may be irrational. Entertainment being primarily emotion provoking rather than reason provoking has a major impact on people’s lives. Appreciating any forms of entertainment could switch from the stages of interest to emotional involvement and finally addiction. The celebrity culture is a direct result of the last stages of appreciation for entertainment.
An interest in celebrities comes from emotional involvement with characters in movies and there may be substantial lack of differentiating fantasy and reality so fans of celebrities are more in love with the characters these celebrities play or the traits they project rather than the personality of celebrities. The celebrity culture seems to take people to a persistent fantasy world and individuals are seen as discussing all aspects of celebrities from their shoes to their hairstyle to the cars they possess. This sort of culture could however be explained with individual need to escape reality and identify with someone in a fantasy world and would be an important element in the study of fantasy.
The study of entertainment brings out many psychological aspects of active-passive participation in emotional or mental adventure and these could be
1. Identification – Viewers often identify with characters in movies or figures in art and this strong identification helps explain the value of entertainment. Young children have seen to imitate film stars as they begin identifying with movie characters.
2. Fantasy – Entertainment feeds on the need for fantasy in people and provides an escape route from the real world. Addiction to entertainment could be the basis of reality anxiety in people.
3. Projection – Individuals tend to project their own emotions or state of mind on to a painting or a song and could derive pleasure from this
4. Regression – Entertainment could often remind individuals of their past or a part of their own life they may have forgotten and in some cases bring out the child in them. For example when older people enjoy video games, it brings back their childhood and they may become addicted to this sort of entertainment.
5. Sublimation – Entertainment is also a form of sublimation of our impulsive desires and this especially true when we participate in entertainment as in the interpretation of art
6. Displacement – In non participative and passive forms of entertainment, individuals tend to escape from reality and displace their emotions from real people to characters in movies. For example a teenager in love with a girl whom he cannot attain may fall in love with a character of a movie who may have similarities with his dream girl.
All of the above processes are ego defense mechanisms delineated by Freud and the interplay of so many defense mechanisms in entertainment suggest that entertainment is more than simply a source of pleasure and could trigger complex psychological processes in the human mind. More research would be required in this field of psychology for a complete understanding of the advantages or disadvantages of entertainment in modern society.
From Reflections in Psychology – Saberi Roy