Psychology of Captain America: Civil War

Virtual memories – The Hippocampus

At MIT, Tony reveals a virtual reality of personal memories created by a mind-reading device. He explains that this device apparently “read” his hippocampus, a part of the brain’s limbic system, and displayed his memory of the last interaction he had with his parents, allowing him to tweak the memory to have a more satisfying, less regrettable conclusions.

Gestalt therapists help the client create a "virtual reality" through their imagination. Tony’s invention – forgetting some possible ethical considerations – essentially would make that therapy technique more realistic.

The hippocampus is involved in a few different processes, but the major one is creating new memories. People are constantly taking in information from their environment, even if they are not always consciously thinking about that information (do you feel the fabric from your shirt rubbing on your skin? You’re welcome.). The stuff we pay attention to and care about gets “encoded” into a new memory; that’s the hippocampus’ job.

Technically, Tony’s device should probably “mind-read” parts of the brain that store memories after the hippocampus forms the memory and ships them off, not the place where new memories are created.

Tony talks about how being able to replay and work through emotionally charged memories could be a useful therapy tool. His inspiration for this therapy concept maybe was an actual psychotherapy modality. Gestalt therapy is a form of psychotherapy that talks about the concept of unfinished business. Perhaps a loved one died, and you were unable to say goodbye. Perhaps we are unable to articulate our feelings to another person during an argument.

Gestalt therapists may use "the empty-chair technique." The therapist asks the client to imagine a deceased loved one sitting in an empty chair in front of the client. Then, clients are instructed to say goodbye and talk through their unfinished feelings to that loved one, as Tony did with his father.

Why do they fear me? – The Amygdala

While under what is essentially house arrest, Wanda/The Scarlett Witch asks Vision, the super left in charge of keeping her in the Avengers Tower, “Why do [the people] fear me?”

Because you literally blew up a building, hurting a number of people, causing significant damage (albeit, accidentally and with the best of intentions), all in the first 10 minutes of the movie, Wanda.

Vision answers her question a little less sarcastically but still just as bluntly. It’s their amygdalae. In other words, fear is biological. He doesn’t fear her power, he says, because his amygdala is synthetic. But for humans, fear comes from the small, almond-shaped parts of the brain in each hemisphere collectively called the amygdala.

does Vision's synthetic amygdala doesn't work like an amygdala should? Do all the other parts of his synthetic brain still work?

The amygdala, simplistically speaking, is responsible for emotions such as anger or fear. So yes, Visions is absolutely right; the people are afraid because their amygdala is responding to information from their environment (Wanda blowing up buildings) and initiating fear.

Ok, but the amygdala doesn’t stop there. It’s also involved in the learning process. According to Ivan Pavlov’s idea of classical conditioning, learning occurs when an organism (an animal/human/android) begins to associate something with an emotion or behavior that were previously unassociated.

Say for instance, you feel hungry and then hear the clock chime twelve o’clock. This keeps happening, eventually you associate the two things, and then sometime when you hear the clock chime, you feel hungry in response.

This concept works especially well with strong emotions like fear. So say people see a building blow up on the news or in person. Naturally, their amygdala fire up, and they feel fear. But they also see Wanda and the rest of the Avengers at the same time they feel this emotion. Remember, the amygdala is sitting right on top of the hippocampus, where memories are encoded. The stronger the emotion, the stronger the association and the memory. The next time they see Wanda, even if no buildings are blowing up, people are very likely to have a fearful response.

The Registration Act – Individualist vs Collectivist values

Obviously, the main focus of Civil War is the division between the Avengers about whether to remain a private group, working outside and perhaps occasionally even against the law, or to begin working as a public organization at the judgment of the United Nations.

Tony Stark promotes working under the UN because he believes the supers should be held accountable to a higher authority. Steve Rogers, however, resists because he believes the supers would be signing over their personal responsibility and autonomy.

Someone from an individualistic culture will generally make a decision based on the best option for the self; someone from a collectivist culture will consider the best option for the group.

The core of each of their arguments reflects the differences between individualistic and collectivist cultures, or mindsets. Individualistic cultures (like the USA and some countries in Europe) value independence, self-reliance, individual rights, choice, and property, and competition. Collectivist cultures (like those in Asian countries), however, stress interdependence, group decision-making, shared property, responsibility to the group, and harmony.

Steve Rogers as Captain America literally embodies American, individualistic values and makes his decisions based on those values throughout the movie. Tony Stark was heavily influenced by Ho Yinsen, who espoused more collectivist than individualistic views.

Yinsen was the one who helped Tony realize he should stop producing weapons for individual profit and consider the wider consequences. Perhaps Yinsen passed on more of these collectivist ideals that later influence Tony to place a higher priority on group consensus and safety than individual choice.

Created By
Heather Ness


Created with images by terimakasih0 - "leather seats chairs seat" • JESHOOTS - "time clock night"

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