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A Beautiful Mind' as a Film Depicting Elements of Abnormal Cognition and Behavior: Psychological Assignment

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Abnormal psychology is a branch of psychology that studies people who are ‘abnormal’ or ‘atypical’ compared to what is acceptable and follows the social norms in a given society. Their behavior may be incomprehensible to others or make others feel threatened and or uncomfortable. With this definition, a person is seen as abnormal when he/she is unable to cope with the demands of everyday life. Such people are unable to perform the behaviors that are necessary for day-to-day living, such as interact meaningfully with others, provide self-care, make themselves understood or be able to withhold a job. However, the concept of abnormal is not quite precise and difficult to define. There are considerable ways to define ‘abnormal’ as those ideas concerning what is ‘normal’.

A film that depicts elements of abnormal cognitive and behavior that I watched for the purpose of this assignment is ‘A Beautiful Mind’. ‘A Beautiful Mind’ is a biographical film based on the life of John Nash, a Nobel Memorial Prize recipient in economics. The film starts out Nash as a student at Princeton where he develops a new concept of game theory. His roommate Charles encourages him to propose his findings to the dean and get his work published. With much success of the article, Nash lands a position at MIT. A couple years later, Nash is taken to the Pentagon, where he meets an alluring supervisor, William Parcher of the United States Department of Defense. He offers Nash a job that would help him decode messages to detect a bomb the Soviet had been hiding. This code is said to be found in the newspapers and magazines so Nash spends a considerable amount of time looking for patterns in magazines and newspapers in order to prevent the Soviet’s plan. Nash subsequently becomes obsessive looking for these hidden patterns and believes he is being followed when he delivers his findings to a special encoded mailbox.

The stress of Nash’s job takes a toll when he witnesses a shootout between his supervisor Parcher and Soviet agents, causing him to fear for his life. Alongside paranoia of being watched by the Soviet, Nash attempts to quit but Parcher blackmails him into staying on his assignment. Nash is then invited to deliver a guest lecture at Harvard University where his speech is slurred and incomprehensible. Mainly because he is distraught when he believes the Soviet agents are there to take him. In an attempt to run from said agents, led by Dr. Rosen, Nash punches Rosen consequently forcing them to sedate him and send him to a psychiatric facility he believes is run by the Soviet. It is in this psychiatric facility that it is revealed John suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. According to the DSM, a person suffering from schizophrenia is typically dominated by relatively stable, often paranoid, fixed beliefs that are either false, over-imaginative or unrealistic. Often accompanied by hallucinations, in which a person experiences what seems to be real perception of something not actually present. Other predominant signs are delusions, in Nash’s case he expressed what is called ‘delusions of persecution’, where he believed the Soviet were out to get him. lack of motivation for life, and mild clinical depression. As it turns out, Johns infamous roommate Charles, was a hallucination. He never had a roommate while attending Princeton. His ‘job’ for the Pentagon and his boss Parcher were all hallucinations. Dr. Rosen explains to Johns’ wife: “A mathematician with no military training is a government spy… or he has lost his grip with reality. The only way I can help him is to show him the difference from what is real and what is in his mind”.

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Contributing factors to Nash’s disorder, those of behavioral influences, included positive symptoms such as delusions, where Nash believes himself to work for the government and be a part of a big mission that only he can help with given his talents of encoding, as well as the hallucinations of Charles and Parcher. Social and cultural factors contribute to biology and behavior. For example, whether you live in a city or the country may be associated with the chances of developing schizophrenia. Nash was living in New Jersey attending an Ivy League school. The rigors of school and surrounded by other talented students ultimately put a strain on him. Social support also affects the health and behavior of someone suffering from schizophrenia. Living in a family with high expressed emotion makes a schizophrenic individual 3.7 times more likely to relapse (Durand, 2016). Nash’s wife, in her attempts to make her home life normal, urges him to take his medication, assist with the baby, be intimate with her. But ultimately, he shows negative symptoms of anhedonia: an inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable, as well as affective flattening, relatively immobile and unresponsive facial expressions, have poor eye contact and little body language (Durand, 2016). Emotional/cognitive interactions that are high in criticism and emotional over-involvement can trigger a relapse in patients with schizophrenia. John put this immense pressure on himself to make a discovery and make a contribution to his field because he believed it was the only way he would be important. “Find a truly original idea. It is the only way I will ever distinguish myself. It is the only way I will ever matter” (‘A Beautiful Mind’, 2001). As well as competing with other talented mathematicians brought out this overachieving nature in himself.

Because Nash hid taking his prescribed medication from his wife, it’s safe to assume he had negative side effects and the insulin induced electroshock therapy he would receive at the mental institute was not effective. Cognitive behavioral therapy would be the best route, given that schizophrenia has a negative impact on a person’s ability to relate to others. Although it is not as striking as the hallucinations and delusions, problems with social skills can prevent people with schizophrenia from obtaining and keeping a job as well as making and maintaining meaningful relationships. In addition to social skills, cognitive behavioral therapy can teach a range of ways people can adapt to their disorder yet live and be a part of the community.

“My quest has taken me to the physical, the metaphysical, the delusional, and back” (‘A Beautiful Mind’, 2001). Nash suggested his delusional thinking was related to his unhappiness, his desire to feel important and be recognized, and his characteristic way of thinking (Wikipedia, 2019). That goes to show the power of the mind and its many components. Ultimately, that kind of drive and stress can take a toll on even the sharpest of minds. What may seem abnormal to others may just as well be a coping mechanism as it was for Nash. It ultimately led him to come up with distinguishing scientific ideas. Even with proper treatment, Nash still saw Charles and Parcher, however, he learned to ignore them and eventually returned to Princeton to teach.

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A Beautiful Mind’ as a Film Depicting Elements of Abnormal Cognition and Behavior: Psychological Assignment. (2023, January 31). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 10, 2023, from
“A Beautiful Mind’ as a Film Depicting Elements of Abnormal Cognition and Behavior: Psychological Assignment.” Edubirdie, 31 Jan. 2023,
A Beautiful Mind’ as a Film Depicting Elements of Abnormal Cognition and Behavior: Psychological Assignment. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 10 Jun. 2023].
A Beautiful Mind’ as a Film Depicting Elements of Abnormal Cognition and Behavior: Psychological Assignment [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Jan 31 [cited 2023 Jun 10]. Available from:
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