This week, I continue my talk about psychology and Batman. You guys really went kind of ape-shit on that riddle I posted last week. I was honestly not expecting that kind of flood of emails. But, it was xandu23914 that answered the riddle first. Congratulations, xandu23914, here’s your prize. The rest of you, thanks for playing.
Last week I talked a bit about some of his villains. This week, however, I’m going to be touching a bit on the big man himself and addressing some much-asked questions.
Is Batman Crazy?
Okay, first off, no psychologist or psychiatrist really uses that word “crazy.” For a variety of reasons. One: it doesn’t mean anything to us. “Insane” is a legal term first and really isn’t used because there is such a wide range of mental disorders that have many different symptoms and courses. Two: It’s not really a nice word. “Crazy” is just as insensitive and rude as “retard,” but it’s still somehow okay to say. You’re mocking real people with real problems. Problems that are not entirely uncommon–that’s the reason why the sub-field has really changed its name from Abnormal Psychology to psychopathology because it’s actually abnormal NEVER to have a psychiatric disorder.
You see, the likelihood that you’ll have a mental disorder at some point in your life is about 80%. Grab 9 of your friends, 8 of you will have a serious, life-altering mental condition at some point in your life (and that’s not even saying you’ll ever recover from it). And that’s just the prevalence for full-blown disorders that match the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (handbook for psychiatric disorders). Everybody shows shades of mental health problems that perhaps aren’t severe enough to really call a “disorder.” Everything is on a continuum, most people are on the low end for things like schizophrenia but may be on the high end for things like Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, or Bi-polar Disorder. Here: I’ll give you a couple examples.
Have you ever played with your hair when you’re nervous? I do it all the time with my beard. Doing that is really on the lower end of the spectrum for a disorder called trichomania, wherein you tear out chunks of your hair when you’re anxious.
Have you ever been doing something, like driving, and not even realized you’ve been doing it? That’s what’s called a dissociation. It’s a sort of cognitive/psychological detachment from things. Common dissociation like you not realizing you’ve been driving are on the low end of the spectrum for bigger dissociative disorders like dissociative amnesia and dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder).
So mental disorders are all on a spectrum, maybe Batman doesn’t have a full-blown mental disorder, but he shows shades of various things.
Does Batman Have PTSD?
PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder that can occur after a terribly traumatic experience and is characterized by vivid flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance behavior/emotional numbing, hyper-arousal. Now, after an extremely traumatic moment, many people experience Post-Traumatic stress, but only about 12% of people experience Post-Traumatic Stress DISORDER. That’s the key that most people forget–a maladaptive, socially impairing disorder. So? Does Batman have PTSD? Let’s break it down by the DSM-IV Criteria:
- Re-expierencing: Batman frequently has vivid nightmares and flashbacks to his parents’ murders. He actively seeks out criminals every night that mimic and reflect the circumstances that orphaned poor, young Bruce Wayne. But, unlike most PTSD patients, Batman’s (that is his real name) flashbacks don’t lead to…
- Avoidance Behavior and Emotional Numbing: Batman in no ways avoids reminders of his trauma–his nocturnal activities intimately immerse him in his memories of trauma. He never suppresses thoughts, or feelings regarding the trauma. He openly shares it with his butler and bat-family. Now, there are sub-categories that Batman does indeed express, such as: Feeling of detachment or estrangement from others– yes, Batman does estrange everybody in his life during his training quest. Restricted range of emotions: absolutely, Batman doesn’t show much of any expression under the mask besides Batman (yes, Batman is an emotion).
- Symptoms of Hyper-Arousal: This is a two-fold area, in one section, this usually leads to paranoia and insomnia, any little stimulus arouses the patient- usually sending them into a panic attack and flashbacks. But when Batman doesn’t sleep, it’s not because his trauma intrudes, it’s because of current circumstances involving supervillainry. The other side of Hyper-Arousal is a constant sense of vigilance. Now, this is Batman to a T- but not for the same reasons as PTSD patients. People suffering from PTSD usually keep a heightened readiness to spot danger because they are slightly paranoid due to their trauma. Batman’s hyper-vigilance is part of his personality–it’s like a Cop out on patrol; he’s attuned to all the danger out there. It’s not in a response to his trauma, it’s in a response to his current lifestyle.
- Symptons last for longer than one month after the traumatic event: Obviously.
Batman, may have some post-traumatic stress, but not any sort of debilitating disorder. Batman isn’t crazy, people who suffer from advanced forms of mental disorders (those that most people’d call “crazy”) usually can’t get it together enough to get through everyday life. Much less perform at the level that Batman does. Batman is most certainly not crazy. He’s the goddamn Batman.
Why does Batman wear a mask?
Practically? This is an easy one, Batman wears a mask overtly because he wants to keep his identity a secret so that his archenemies don’t hunt down his friends, family, or himself and murder them. The more unconscious reason why Bats wears his mask may have to do with something called Self-evaluation. Self-evaluation is exactly what it says on the tin: when you examine yourself. This can happen not only when you drop acid–but surprisingly enough, when you have to look at yourself. Studies have shown that you are much less likely to commit taboos when you’re placed in front of a mirror- even minor things like only taking one piece of candy when the sign says not to (even if there is no one watching). Something that obscures or inhibits self-evaluation is a mask. Wearing a mask does the exact opposite of a mirror in terms of self-evaluation. And I don’t know if you’ve ever really thought about it–but Batman does some pretty fucking horrendous things. He hunts people like a serial killer and unceremoniously beats the absolute shit out of them. Doing that night after night could do a lot to a person’s emotional stability. Now, Batman may use it as a way of dealing with his trauma, or out of a sense of moral duty. But wearing a mask definitely makes it easier to do.
So, Batman may not be exactly normal, but he’s not “insane” or even psychologically disturbed. He’s not a well-adjusted human being, but that can be expected of orphans who see their parent’s brutally murdered and then dedicate their lives to fighting crime.
Alright, so last week, I jokingly gave you guys a riddle to solve- and you glorious bastards went absolutely crazy with it. So here’s another one:
Join me next week as I answer two of your questions and discuss science tropes in the media. And be sure to check out my other column, where I review dumb-ass action films every Monday: Mindless Action Mondays
Have a science-related question? Ask it!
If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find someone who does.
Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb…