The Psychology of Becoming Walter White

Topics: Crime, Sunk costs, Video game controversy Pages: 5 (1745 words) Published: October 27, 2014
The Psychology of Becoming Walter White
Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, said that his goal with Walter White was to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface. Take a regular person, like you—assume you’re regular for a second—and then make you nice and evil, like a witch in a gingerbread house. Is that really even possible? Could you become another Walter White? I’m inclined to believe that most of us still think some people are good and some people are bad, and never the twain shall meet. Despite the lessons we learned from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we still think that good and evil belong in different people. Walter clearly shows that it doesn’t. And he demonstrates this with so many good psychological reasons—reasons that experimental psychologists observe in ‘normal’ people on a daily basis.

What are these reasons and do they apply to you? See for yourself. Reason 1: Anyone can become a killer
David Buss wrote a book a few years ago called “The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind is Designed to Kill.” One of the central points of this book is that, not only do the majority of us consider killing other people in our lives (more than 80% of both sexes), but—if the external conditions are right—many of us actually do. We do it out of jealousy, rage, self-defense, greed, and revenge. Moreover, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to observe that wars kill people, nor are they necessarily the domain of the insane. When moral boundaries are drawn differently, a lot of people comply by engaging in behavior they otherwise wouldn’t. Including murder. From draftees to presidents. Consider that Obama probably never thought taking someone’s life would become part of his political career, but indeed, it has. And as difficult a decision as it was to make, I imagine many of us would have done the same. So consider this step one on your way to becoming Walter White. Reason 2: Believing you're a victim makes you more likely to commit a crime Many studies have shown that social inequality drives up crime rates. When the poor and the rich live near one another, laws get broken. Social comparison is usually blamed—and it’s a nasty thing. Studies find that kids will take less to avoid others having more. Offer a child the choice between having three candies if his sister can have four, versus having two candies if his sister gets one and see what happens. Moreover, people are often unhappier if promotions don't seem to follow easy to understand rules, even when they’re promoted more rapidly as a result. The trouble is that in almost any situation, there is almost always someone who is better off than you. So if you think you're a victim of unfair treatment because other people have it better than you, consider this step two on your way to becoming a bad guy. But there's more to it than that. A lot of people blame Walter's bad behavior on his sad situation: his cancer, his humiliating job(s), his family life, and his regrettable relationships with past co-workers. Whether this is worse than what other non-criminals have to deal with is beside the point, the question is about what Walter believes. And he does believe he is a victim, at least in the beginning. The problem with believing you have no control over your life (that you’re a victim) is that it increases your chances of being a jerk. Several recent studies have shown that being led to disbelieve in your ability to control your own fate (i.e., yourfree will) directly increases the chances that you will be aggressive,cheat, and fail to help others. Reason 3: Thinking you have nothing left to lose is not good for your health The problem with thinking you have nothing left to lose is that you start to take risks you otherwise wouldn’t. This is sometimes called risk sensitivity, which basically says that it makes sense to take risks when you're likely to lose if you don’t. This explains the end of countless football and hockey games. Moreover, it's built fairly...
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