Positive Psychology Movies and Other Media
Movies and related media provide a powerful and inspiring mechanism by which any person can view any of the 24 character strengths in action. Some of our most memorable role models and examples of positive character can be seen in film. While the use of movies in education, therapy/counseling, and other contexts has been discussed for over three decades in the literature, experimental studies are comparatively infrequent, as are theoretical explorations of character strengths in film.
- This chapter discusses the relevance of arts and humanities in creating the VIA classification, shares earlier research/practice on character strengths in these disciplines, and offers new research on differences in character strengths of people work in occupations relating to arts and humanities compared with other occupations (Ruch & Gander, 2022).
Ruch, W., & Gander, F. (2022). In L. Tay & J. O. Pawelski (Eds.), Character and virtues in the arts and humanities. The Oxford handbook of the positive humanities. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190064570.013.4
- Discusses theory, models, framework, and practices for character strengths cinematherapy. Integrates work on cinematic elevation, cinematic admiration, positive emotion, empathy, and observational learning with character science. Offers conceptualization and examples for matching films by client’s character strengths, goals, well-being areas, and psychopathology (Niemiec, 2020).
Niemiec, R. M. (2020). Character strengths cinematherapy: Using movies to inspire change, meaning, and cinematic elevation. Journal of Clinical Psychology. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22997
- Takes a broad perspective to examine the role of character strengths in arts and humanities, including related professions, the importance of role models, and the particular role of the strength of appreciation of beauty and excellence (Ruch & Gander, 2020).
Ruch, W., & Gander, F. (2020). Character and virtues in the arts and humanities. In L. Tay & J. O. Pawelski (Eds.) Oxford handbook of positive psychology on the arts and humanities. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
- Study using lexical analysis to understand cultural usage of character strengths. One study found that the highest grossing films had more dialogue that referenced the strengths of creativity and leadership. It also found that the highest grossing and highest rated films (2013-2016) included fewer words representing seven of the character strengths than a normative database. A second study compared U.S. presidential candidate nomination speeches and found the strength of hope as a better predictor of outcomes than incumbency; Democrats referred to love of learning twice as often as Republicans; Republicans referred to spirituality 50% more than Democrats, and five character strengths correlated significantly across the parties’ speeches: appreciation of beauty, curiosity, fairness, hope, and love.
Lamson, W. R. J., & McGrath, R. E. (2019). Speaking of character: Character strength references in movies and presidential nomination speeches. Journal of Positive Psychology. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2019.1689415
- Thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews of working professionals who had also taken the VIA Survey. Examined how movies transport the viewer into the narrative, facilitating identification with the core character(s) who are exhibiting character strengths. This study shows the important role that movies can play to build viewer’s character strengths (Sridharan, 2018).
Sridharan, G. (2018). Building character strength through movies. Unpublished manuscript.
- This study showed that cinematic portrayals of strengths such as love and kindness elicit the emotion of elevation. Elevation explained the relationship between meaningful films and feelings of connectedness with the transcendent, with close others, and with family, compassionate love toward close others and motivation to love and be good to humanity.
Janicke, S. H., & Oliver, M. B. (2017). The relationship between elevation, connectedness, and compassionate love in meaningful films. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 6, 274-289. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000105
- Study showing that the viewing of positive psychology movies led to an increase in positive characteristics and positive behaviors.
Smithikrai, C. (2016). Effectiveness of teaching with movies to promote positive characteristics and behaviors. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 217, 522-530.
- Coins the terms “cinematic elevation” and “cinematic admiration” and to refer to processes by which positive movies can inspire goodness or motivation by means of character strengths use. Each shows how the viewer’s response is related to the core processes of an emotion. For example, the three parts of cinematic elevation include: a.) the observation of a character using one of the 24 character strengths; b.) the physiological response in the viewer, such as a tingling in the extremities or a warming in the chest; c.) motivation toward altruism, doing good, using character strengths to benefit others (Niemiec, 2012).
Niemiec, R. M. (2012, summer). Cinematic elevation and cinematic admiration: Can watching movies positively impact you? Amplifier, issue 4, 10-11. Available here.
- First publication to integrate the science of positive psychology and the media. This book uses 1,500 films to portray the 24 character strengths and various areas of well-being such as mindfulness, resilience, meaning, and relationships. The 2008 edition introduces the concept of cinematic elevation while the 2014 edition adds the concept of cinematic admiration (Niemiec & Wedding, 2014).
Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2014). Positive psychology at the movies: Using films to build character strengths and well-being (2nd edition). Boston: Hogrefe.
Updated August 2022