By Amy Fox, Luke Harbison, Becca Horton, Cheyenne Sands, and Licia Sheridan
The Breakfast Club is a 1985 film that follows five unlikely friends as they spend a day in detention. Over the years, it became a widely appreciated film for its social relevance in youth culture regarding themes such as stereotype impact and parental pressures. This following article discusses ten social psychology topics that were depicted true in The Breakfast Club.
- Stereotypes of Delinquents
John Bender’s depiction in the breakfast club is that of a stereotypical delinquent: he is rude, deals drugs, and has an alcoholic father. While it may be stereotypical for troubled youth to have an alcoholic parent there may be some truth to this stereotype. A Danish study conducted in the year 2000 observed the relationship between alcoholic parents having poorly adjusted children. Having an alcoholic parent was found to be a significant predictor of a child being depressed and/or socially deviant.
2. Social Learning Theory
What is John Bender’s major malfunction? There has to be a reason for an adolescent to be so prone to acting out. In the movie, one of Bender’s favorite forms of misbehavior is to smoke marijuana. While many adolescents experiment with this particular drug the vast majority do not smoke it constantly. Could Bender’s upbringing have anything to do with this? Well according to Social Learning Theory, it may. Social Learning Theory is the theory that behavior is learned through observation or positive or negative experiences. Bender observed his father chronically abusing his intoxicant of choice, alcohol. According to professionals at the University of Pittsburgh school of medicine, adolescent modeling of parental substance abuse is a risk factor for the child to abuse substances.
The Basket Case:
3. Parent-child Relationships
Allison is very complex in the way we see her versus how she truly is. She wears all black and carries around a bag full of her stuff, and things she has “acquired” from other. According to the study by Fuligni and Eccles her need to show off is resulted by her lack of parental authority. Her parents don’t pay attention to her and don’t seem to care for her well-being;so she does what she can to stand out.
While Allison clearly stands out and makes sure that everyone notices she also wants to fit in. She allows Clair, the princess, to give her a completely makeover. According to the study by Santor et. al, this is a common occurrence. When someone from a lower clique, aka the not popular, they will do conform who they are to fit in. The Breakfast Club got conformity right when they created Allison.
5. Cognitive Dissonance
Brian Johnson, “the Brain” is what you would think of when asked to imagine an overachiever in high school: AP classes, straight As, and a little socially awkward. Brian found himself in Saturday detention after the flare gun he had brought to school discharged in his locker before he got the chance to use it to end his life. It is later revealed than his first-ever F (in a shop class no less!) is what drove him to that decision. This illustrates the concept of cognitive dissonance, the discrepancy being his high academic achievement in comparison to his shop grade. A paper published by Richter and Ferraro links cognitive dissonance with GPA discrepancies: having a high GPA and receiving a “low” score caused greater discomfort. This could perhaps be Brain’s reasoning for wanting to ill himself; his grades and self-perceived intelligence didn’t match.
6. Self-Verification Theory
Another way to analyze Brain’s choice would be through the lense of self-verification theory. This states that we look for clues about ourselves that align with our own views of ourselves, and any mismatch between the two can cause discomfort. As Gómez et al describe it, “ Self-verification processes allow people to stabilize their self-view . . . Stable self-views provide people with a sense of coherence and confidence, and also with a sense of being understood by others that facilitates social interactions.” In Brian’s case, the stability of his self-view was disturbed, which caused distress and could have been the prime motivator for his decision.
7. Social Dominance Orientation
Andrew Clark, or “the athlete”, is the number one jock at his school and is very popular. Andrew got detention because of bullying a nerdy kid. Although that makes him seem like a mean hearted kid, he is actually very kind and well-mannered. Andrew is talented, but if he did not have his father pressuring him to be so popular he probably would be perceived very differently. Andrew feels so much pressure to not be a loser from his father that he made the choice to bully someone even though he knew it was very wrong. Andrew is experiencing Social Dominance Orientation, which is having such a strong desire to promote the dominance of your in-group that you adopt new values to promote oppression of other groups to increase dominance. A study by Kusdil and Akoglu predicts that people who score low on Social Dominance Orientation are more likely to favor ideologies that question inequality. Even though Andrew feels bad about bullying it is clear that his need to be popular makes him have a high Social Dominance Orientation.
Even though by the end of the movie Andrew was able to show that he is not a stereotypical jock, other members of The Breakfast Club will most likely experience subtyping. They know that Andrew has a good heart, but they will still view his social group, the athletes, in a stereotypical manner that is probably negative. They will forget about their disconfirming experience when they are judging other athletes at the school. Carnaghi and Yzerbyt’s two studies support this theory with their results showing that their participants subtyped disconfirming members in order to embrace stereotypes that are advocated by their in-group audience.
9. Social Identity Theory
Claire is seen as the “prom queen”, perfect rich girl, who is entitled to everything she desires. And in the beginning of the story that is what the audience sees. When Luke and Claire are discussing school clubs, she makes a comment that the ones she participates in are far better than the academic clubs that Brian participates in. Though they are both clubs, she sees hers as superior. Later in the movie, she even states that the only reason Brian wouldn’t discriminate against her in class the next day is because his friends look up to the “cool” kids. Claire suffers from ingroup bias, favoritism of the group that you identify with over the ones that you do not. To explain this, Tajfel and Turner (1979) proposed the social identity theory. Which states that people favor ingroups to enhance self-esteem. In Claire’s case, her parents were getting a divorce; she was feeling alone, pressured, and a lack of identity. So Claire discriminated against others to make herself feel better.
As the story continues, Claire opens up about why she acts the way she does. She says that she does it to fit in. Her family and friends expect her to act a certain way so, she modifies her behavior to avoid being ostracized. For example, when Brian asks if they will be friends in school tomorrow. Claire admits that she would only say “hi” and then gossip behind his back, so her friends wouldn’t think they were close. Wooten and Reed (2004) call this phenomenon normative influence, the tendency to conform to gain social acceptance. Claire modifies her behavior, so that others see her as favorable and more willing of acceptance. Though she may not think the behavior is always right, she will do it anyway to avoid any tarnish to her character.