What Makes a Monster and What Makes a Man: The Importance of Fairy Tales in Early Childhood

Bruno Bettelheim’s study, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, offers insight into the reason fairy and folk tales are often used to teach children lessons, using illustrations for topics that would otherwise be difficult for parents to discuss with their children. While many adults only desire to present pleasant images to children, teaching that there is no evil in the world is inefficient; youth are quick to pick up on the notion that there is. Bettelheim argues that through Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, mankind is enabled to accept life’s struggles without allowing themselves to be defeated, but instead strengthened by their experiences and thus given meaning for their existence. Fairy tales are able to deliver these themes to offspring through following a structure similar to that of a daydream, through which they can be taught that while pain and suffering are inevitable, they may overcome their problems with great effort. Therefore, due to the benefits fairy tales pose for child development, Disney’s retelling of Victor Hugo’s classic Notre-Dame de Paris is efficient in teaching children to appreciate and understand other cultures through telling the story in a simplified format. Additionally, although Bruno Bettelheim’s research on fairy tales is shown to lack objectivity, Heike vom Orde proves that fairy tales are essential in child development, due to their efficiency in teaching values while also keeping the attention span of their audience.

Many tales begin with the death of a parent or another traumatic event. In order for young children to understand, the situation is simplified and unimportant details are omitted. The stories have a large focus on battles of good versus evil; a character is either good or bad, teaching children to easily comprehend the difference between the two. Although no one is truly good or evil in reality, Bettelheim argues that presenting such complexity in characters may confuse the young audience. Therefore, the protagonist and antagonist are displayed as distinct opposites, often leading the child to favor the character they can sympathize with the most: the character they believe to be “good.” This is likely because children can relate to the common theme of a character’s desire for a sense of belonging or to overcome one’s fears. The fairy tale then becomes a symbol of hope, reminding them that even the meekest of souls can achieve greatness (Bettelheim).

Psychologist Heike vom Orde further studies this approach in her article, Children Need Fairy Tales, conducting research through surveying young audiences and discussing the reception and criticism of Bettelheim’s claims. In the survey given, it is shown that 56% of German children ranging from the ages of nine to nineteen enjoy fairy tales, while 38% of those surveyed do not. A small margin of 6% only enjoy a few fairy tales (Orde, 1). Additionally, Orde addresses the concerns of the theory’s critics, who often stated that the work fails to reflect on the socializing function of folk tales and differentiates too little between folk tales and modern literature. Furthermore, Orde states that research proves Bettelheim’s claim that children enjoy fairy tales more than other children’s literature to be unsustainable. Additionally, Bettelheim is criticized for not having acknowledged the subjectivity of his interpretations. However, it is agreed that fairy tales are essential in child development, teaching children cultural values and morals.

Several adaptations of fairy tales have come into existence, most notably the works of the Walt Disney Animation Studios. Famous for its adaptations of tales such as The Little Mermaid and The Beauty Sleeping in the Wood (Sleeping Beauty), in 1996 the company released The Hunchback of Notre Dame as a child-friendly version of the classic Victor Hugo novel.

Originally published in 1831, Notre-Dame de Paris begins at the 1482 Festival of Fools, for which the physically and mentally handicapped Quasimodo leaves the bell tower of Notre Dame against the advice of his adoptive father, Archdeacon Claude Frollo. Later, after ordering Quasimodo to leave the festival, he orders him to aide in attacking a gypsy performer named Esmerelda as she walks home. Quasimodo is later arrested and tried for his crime; however, he is shown mercy by the young gypsy when she offers him water to drink during his public punishment. Esmerelda wins the affection of Quasimodo and Frollo, although she does not return the same affection to any of them; instead, she falls in love with one of the King’s soldiers, Phoebus de Chateaupers. This makes Frollo jealous, leading him to become obsessive and filled with lust for her. That night, he finds Phoebus and stabs him, accusing Esmerelda of his supposed death. While she awaits execution, Frollo visits her in her cell and gives her an ultimatum: she can love him or face death. She decides to face execution, and is hanged. At the cathedral, Quasimodo discovers her corpse and becomes furious, sending Frollo to his death by throwing him from the north tower. Upon seeing the cadavers of both the man who raised him and the woman he held dear, Quasimodo cries, “This is everything I ever loved.” After the events of the story, it is revealed that next to Esmerelda’s remains are the bones of a “hunchback,” as a depressed Quasimodo starves himself to death and dies by her side (Hugo).

In the 1996 Walt Disney film adaptation, the story follows a pattern that is much simpler for a child’s cognitive ability and attention span to follow. The film begins with the murder of Quasimodo’s mother, following the typical trope of fairy tales beginning with the loss of a parent. Then, despite the original novel’s diverse personalities in each character which often blur the lines of good and evil, Disney structures the story to fit the format of a fairy tale; there is a specific villain, Claude Frollo, whom is given few redeeming qualities; viewers are rarely shown his paternal side, and instead are conditioned to dislike him as he limits Quasimodo from accomplishing his dreams, attempts the genocide of those of Roma ethnicity, murders Quasimodo’s mother, and sings of his lust for Esmeralda (revised spelling of her original name), praying that “she will be mine or she will burn [in Hell] (Hulce et al.).” Through seeing the effects of Frollo’s oppression of Quasimodo and the gypsies, the audience is unable to sympathize with him, and instead are drawn to Quasimodo. In addition, not only are viewers taught to dislike Frollo, they are repulsed by the symbols for which he stands: corrupt leadership, racism, and sexism. Although children may not fully understand either concept at their age, they are shown the consequences that Frollo and the other characters face for his actions and the turmoil it causes them, leading the audience to understand how his behavior is harmful to society. After Frollo’s defeat, Quasimodo’s wish to be accepted into society is fulfilled, the gypsies are able to live in freedom, and the Parisians appear to be pleased with the outcome.

While Disney’s retelling is not as complex as the original literature, one must understand that the target audience would not have the capacity to truly appreciate the work in its unabridged form. However, the story’s themes of acceptance and freedom are still highly important for children to be taught; therefore, the only way to ensure the message would be instilled in a child’s mind is to follow the format of stories children are used to hearing.

Furthermore, the original novel deals with explicit themes of sex and murder; while the Disney version does touch upon these topics, it does so in a subtle form so that the audience is not distracted from the most important theme: acceptance. Utilizing every single detail from the original tale would only confuse a child, as their brain is not yet fully developed and does not yet understand the complex nature of many of Hugo’s topics. In addition, Hugo’s work is difficult for many adults to comprehend, often leaving the common citizen confused and only able to focus on the tragic ending in which all three principal characters meet a devastating death. Children are especially sensitive to traumatic events, often becoming psychologically damaged and subconsciously fearful due to being exposed to traumatic events at a young age. However, through giving the story a happy ending in which Quasimodo achieves many of his dreams, they are encouraged to believe that they too can leave a positive impact on their society, and that no matter where they come from or what they look like, there will always be something they can contribute. The film concludes with the quote, “What makes a monster and what makes a man?” (Kandel et al.) This final question proves the tale’s main point, which is that one’s character cannot be judged off appearance, but on their integrity. This is a lesson that many children will take with them into adulthood; they may only remember a few details, but they will remember all of the ones that matter.

 

 

Works Cited

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. N.p.: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976. Print.

Hugo, Victor. Notre-Dame De Paris. N.p.: Gosselin, 1831. Print.

Hulce, Tom, and Tony Jay. By Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken. Heaven’s Light / Hellfire. 1996. CD.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Dir. Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale. Perf. Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Tony Jay. Walt Disney Company, 1996. Videocassette.

Kandel, Paul. By Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken. The Bells of Notre Dame (Reprise). 1996. CD.

Vom Orde, Heike. “Children Need Fairy Tales.” Televizion (2013): 17. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Psychological Power of Faith

Since the first humans roamed the Earth, there has always been a quest for the meaning of life. Individuals have often turned to religion as an answer to all of life’s questions, such as what occurs when one dies, if there is a higher power or deity in existence, and for guidance on spiritual and physical healing. While it cannot be scientifically proven whether spiritual legends of healing (such as the miracles of Jesus Christ in the Christian faith) are accurate, it is undeniable that many religions, despite the uncertainty of which religion is “correct,” have brought their followers peace of mind and happiness. Therefore, it may not be surprising that most individuals residing in the United States, whether actively participating in organized religious activities or not, have expressed a belief in a higher power. Over the past 50 years, more than 90% of Americans have consistently expressed a belief in a god; more than 60% of which also pray on a daily basis (Miller). Furthermore, more than two-thirds report having membership to a church, mosque, or synagogue. Many individuals also report that participating in their religious practices has positively impacted their psychological, emotional, and physical health through receiving a sense of purpose in their life, being given hope in times of adversity, and aiding individuals in decision-making processes. Therefore, it can be argued that spirituality and religion are beneficial to one’s health; although it is not any specific religion’s doctrine that can bring healing, but it encourages believers to find purpose in their lives, to be optimistic in adversity, and to follow “signs” which directly impact their decisions. Additionally, while all followers who practice spiritual rituals benefit greatly from the psychological effects of the practices, it is only the most devout who are able to achieve true enlightenment.

Among many of the psychological disorders often helped through meditation and spirituality (not intended to replace medication), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms have been found to be reduced in African-American women through the practice of religion in a study conducted by Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis et al. According to the study, the African-American female demographic was chosen due to their increased risk of experiencing sexual assault. Furthermore, due to persisting sexual stigma and racism in American society, black women are the least likely to seek help from formal agencies, such as law enforcement and psychological counseling. Therefore, the researchers inferred that perhaps the women would be more likely seek help from psychological and philosophical experts when religious and spiritual coping techniques are employed. The study was then conducted for one year, experimenting on 252 sexual assault survivors located in the Chicago metropolitan area. After the first progress check on the victims’ symptoms, it was found that several women had not yet experienced a decrease in PTSD symptoms (Davis). However, at Time 2, it was found that social support and religious coping indeed helped survivors better cope with their symptoms, even if the symptoms were not entirely abolished. Therefore, while the individuals’ religious beliefs may not have caused their symptoms to cease altogether, they were still able to find new methods to cope with their trauma and have the courage to seek help from professionals as well.

Further studying the effects of spirituality’s effects on psychological health, Dr. Jeffrey Greeson et al. studies the effects of a technique known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (hereafter referred to as MBSR) on individuals struggling with clinical depression. MBSR is a meditation program not affiliated with any specific religion that is known to treat major depression symptoms. Prior to the study on the treatment’s effectiveness, there was little known about the participants’ personal spiritual backgrounds. Therefore, the study tested whether individual differences in religion and spiritual maturity affect MBSR’s efficacy (Greeson). Throughout the experimentation process, psychological professionals analyzed 322 adults for a total of eight weeks. In the full study sample, it was discovered that the severity of depressive symptoms significantly decreased across all of the subgroups, which include but are not limited to religion, spiritual growth, sex, and baseline symptom severity. The most significant factor in successful results was discovered to be a result of changes in spirituality and mindfulness; as individuals became more open to embracing new ideas and participating in retrospective activities (most commonly meditation), they became more devoted to engaging in MBSR activities, ultimately achieving optimal results and experiencing a significant decrease in depressive symptoms. Therefore, although the meditation training program is not affiliated with any particular faith, the act of meditation in itself, which is utilized in most contemporary religions (such as the spiritual practice of prayer, which is a significant activity in religions focusing on the presence of a deity, and involves a vast amount of retrospection), is potent enough to not only decrease symptoms of depression, but also to increase one’s mindfulness, overall attitude, and spiritual awareness.

In addition to the psychological impact of faith, studies have also discovered psychosomatic effects as well. Chittaranjan Andrade, Professor of Psychopharmacology for the National Institutes of Health, has further discussed the common belief of healing through prayer through illustrating randomized controlled trials on prayer and healing. Andrade conducted a study on three possible outcomes of prayer: the possibility of prayer improving a situation’s outcome, having no effect on the outcome, and the possibility of worsening outcomes. Although Andrade admits that it is difficult to truly observe the positive effects of spirituality from a scientific perspective, it is evident that stress management techniques utilized in prayer (which, as previously stated, is a form of meditation) are often correlated with improved mental and biological health. Such benefits include reduced ambulatory blood pressure, reduced heart rate, altered levels of melatonin and serotonin, improved immune responses, and enhanced self-esteem. This became evident when the three outcome studies were conducted. When studying improved outcomes, he requested individuals to participate in intercessory prayer on wound healing in a nonhuman species. When the 22 bush babies were divided into randomized prayer and control groups over a 4-week period, it was found that the bush babies who had been placed in a prayer group experienced a greater reduction in wound size compared to the control animals. This discovery is highly important, because due to the species being inhuman, the subjects likely did not experience a placebo effect. In the test of absence of prayer benefits, it was discovered that patients suffering with terminal cardiovascular defects did not benefit from similar intercessory prayer methods, and when studying worsened outcomes associated with prayer, it was discovered that individuals only showed signs of improvement when they were aware they were being prayed for. Therefore, he argues that it is not the prayer in itself that leads to recovery, but the improved mental state it creates in those participating.

In addition to physical benefits, religion can also impact decisiveness in healing. It is important to note Norman Yeung Bik Chung’s “A Faithful Taoist,” which describes the impact Taoism had on his late father (Chung). As his father’s health began to decline as the result of a dying battery in a pace maker inserted into his heart, he found himself faced with two options: undergo surgery to replace the battery and face a long and painful recovery process, or let nature run its course. His father had been considering the latter prior to visiting their local Taoist temple. However, he received a message at the altar which stated, “Go and he will be healed.” Believing it to be a sign from a deity, he received surgery and was able to extend his life for another fifteen years. Years after his death, the Chung explains that he still feels his father’s presence in ways that are difficult to dismiss as coincidence or a work of his own imagination. He then concludes that even if they were written by one of the volunteers at the temple, those few words written on the message his father received at the altar strengthened his father’s will to live, stating, “I will always be grateful to those who gave him the hope none of us in our family could offer.” In the end, he argues that it is not the validity of religion that matters, but instead it is how it affects human life. Chung’s father’s complete trust in the religion led to experiencing fifteen more years of life, assisting him in making the decision that was ultimately the best for his family and personal health.

Therefore, while there are many variables that are difficult to test scientifically due to the various religions and spiritual beliefs present in the world, one can conclude that the meditative practices are helpful in improving one’s mental state, which has a significant effect on other parts of the physical body as well.

Works Cited

Andrade, Chittaranjan, and Rajiv Radhakrishnan. “Prayer and Healing: A Medical and Scientific Perspective on Randomized Controlled Trials.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry 51.4 (2009): 247–253. PMC. Web. 7 Dec. 2016.

Chung, Norman. “A Faithful Taoist.” N.d.

Greeson Jeffrey M., Smoski Moria J., Suarez Edward C., Brantley Jeffrey G., Ekblad Andrew G., Lynch Thomas R., and Wolever Ruth Quillian. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. March 2015, 21(3): 166-174. doi:10.1089/acm.2014.0285.

Miller, W. R., & Thoresen, C. E. (2003). Spirituality, religion, and health: An emerging research field. American Psychologist, 58(1), 24-35. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.58.1.24

 

Nurture Over Nature: How the Environment Affects the Mind

For decades, psychological experts have continued to debate over the significance of one’s traits given at birth—their nature—over the significance of the circumstances the individual is placed in (known as the “nurture” argument) and its effect on their development. Human nature is often defined by the biological traits given through genetics, such as hereditary medical conditions, race, and gender (not to be confused with one’s gender identity, which may not always align with the one assigned at birth). For example, while an individual living far away from the equator may have a greater likelihood of developing Multiple Sclerosis than one living in South America, their likelihood of developing the disorder increases exponentially when there is a genetic link, such as a parent or grandparent. Therefore, one may argue that the individual’s nature has the most significant effect in the scenario. However, supporters of the “nurture” argument believe that socialization, classical and operant conditioning are essential tools in encouraging children to behave in ways similar to others in their society. Additionally, there are also cases of physical and emotional abuse which often lead individuals to develop psychological disorders and various other negative consequences that often manifest during adolescence and carry into adulthood. Therefore, while the traits given to one at birth certainly are a significant factor in psychological and physical development, ultimately individuals shape their personalities and values through the processes of socialization, conditioning, and recovering from traumatic experiences.

Socialization is defined as the act of adapting to the behavior of the individuals around one’s self. (Persell, 98) Beginning in early childhood, one’s primary socialization agents are their families, especially parental figures. An example of socialization is the development of spiritual and political ideologies. For example, a child raised in a household with politically liberal parents are unlikely to develop conservative opinions as they age, due to the environments they are exposed to as a child. Socialization prepares individuals to understand how to conform to society’s norms and values, and in many cases, it refers to the preparation for individuals to become fully functioning members of a specific group of society. An example of such can be found in gender socialization; from a young age, young boys are taught that they must enjoy outdoor activities, violent shows, and competitive sports. However, girls are socialized to use pink-colored toys, enjoy the Disney Princess franchise, and to participate in non-aggressive physical activities, such as the performing arts. As a result, it is often difficult for one to break the norm they have been taught to conform to, often allowing their career path and personality to be dictated by the behaviors their society has socialized them to follow, for fear of being rejected by their peers. The effects of socialization have been experienced by every person living as part of a certain race, religion, or nationality. However, in 1979, critics of the nurture theory’s presence over nature launched a study in order to discover the extent to which human personality is genetic or nurtured.

This study led by Thomas Bouchard, Jr. is known as the catalyst for the Minnesota Twin Study, which continues to study the genetic and sociological similarities of identical and fraternal twins. The initial experiment, conducted among over 1,000 sets of twins living in the United States Midwestern region, shows that even when reared apart, twin siblings still develop similar personalities and interests. Participants are also known to share mental disorders with their twins; if one sibling has been diagnosed with a condition such as Psychopathy, the other sibling’s risk of developing the disorder rises exponentially. Therefore, supporters of the “nature” aspect of the theory might argue that the twins’ similarities are due to their time shared in the womb. However, those supporting the “nurture” argument argue that the study analyzes twins who, although reared separately, have still been raised in similar situations. Most significantly, all of the study’s participants reside in the Midwestern region of the United States; often, many participants live near Minnesota. Readers are also only shown the effects of the study on one’s intelligence quotient (IQ), (Bouchard, 225) and therefore are shown minimal information on the other personality traits the participants have developed. Therefore, it can be inferred that the individuals may have been raised in similar environments, and similar environmental circumstances may have led to the development of similar preferences, ideologies, and personalities.

Classical conditioning refers to the learning process in which two stimuli are paired: an independent stimulus and another which accompanies it repeatedly. John Watson’s experiment on an infant famously known as “Little Albert” is well-known for explaining the process. “Little Albert” is known in the study of psychology for demonstrating the effects of classical conditioning as a participant in Watson’s study, showing how painful or otherwise uncomfortable stimuli can lead to the creation of phobias. (Schwartz) In the experiment, Watson would present a pre-school toy (a “cute” object like a stuffed animal) to the infant while simultaneously providing an unpleasant stimulus, such as a loud noise. This would cause the child to weep, and after multiple cycles of repetitively pairing the two stimuli together, the child would sob simply due to seeing the independent stimulus (the toy). Many critics of the ethics of the study argue that “Little Albert” was permanently traumatized by the events, thus leading him to fear many similar objects. It is highly possible that the events surpassed the territory of conditioning and led to the event of a traumatic experience.

Traumatic experiences also greatly affect one’s mental and emotional well-being. Dr. Gabor Mate further emphasizes the significance of one’s circumstances when explaining the common causes leading to drug use and eventual addiction: he describes it as “the individual’s attempt to escape from the pain.”  (Lavitt) Most drug addicts the doctor has encountered explain the cause of their use to be traumatization, which is often unnoticed until pointed out by a psychological professional. While most addicts initially believed the cause of their use to be a part of their nature (often stating that they simply believed themselves to be “bad people”), there is often a connection between the majority of addicts, and that is that the majority of the time, the underlying cause of the person’s decision to abuse drugs is to avoid emotions of guilt caused by exposure to traumatic experiences. Some might argue that addiction can be hereditary, and therefore nature may still have a dominance over nurture. While this may be true, it does not alter the fact that individuals decide to use illegal drugs in order to escape from their pain, and often turn to substances that they have seen those around them abuse as well. Therefore, it can be inferred that there is a correlation between substance addiction and psychological trauma.

After reviewing all of the information discovered, one can come to the conclusion that one’s surroundings may have an even greater impact on psychological development than the influences given to individuals through their genetic material. Each person is born with a specific number of traits; although some traits are not discovered until later in life, they are always present from the hour of one’s birth to the minute of their death. However, psychological development and personal growth can only be expanded over the course of one’s lifetime; humans are constantly exposed to new environments over the course of their lifetime. With new exposure, individuals are able to learn new cultural norms, new languages, and to meet new individuals who can help inspire them to continue to enhance their world view. While there will always be factors that cannot be changed, there is always the possibility of improvement.

 

Works Cited

Bouchard, Thomas. “Sources of Human Psychological Differences: The Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart.” Pp. 223-228. Print.

Lavitt, John. “Addiction Is a Response to Childhood Suffering: In Depth with Gabor Maté.” The Fix. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.

Persell, Caroline Hodges. 1990. Understanding Society: An Introduction to Sociology. 3rd ed. Pp. 98-107. New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.

Schwartz, Steven. Classic Studies in Psychology. Palo Alto: Mayfield Pub., 1986. Print.