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What About Bob

By ElijahM2013 Jun 20, 2013 1152 Words
JUNE 12, 2013

In the 1991 comedy, What About Bob? Bill Murray portrays a peculiar and anxious man that is isolated by his multiple phobias and excessive dependence on therapists. Bob Wiley’s (Bill Murray’s character) fears range from germs to fear of having a heart attack or his bladder explode spontaneously. He will pretend to have Tourette syndrome, shouting strange but inappropriate and vulgar combinations of words just to assure himself he does not have it. Bob is also socially anxious and desperate for personal connections other than that with his beloved goldfish Gil. The storyline centers around Bob’s unusual relationship with Dr. Leo Marvin, an egotistic psychologist and newly published author, that had recently agreed to take Wiley on as a new patient from a fellow therapist who, unknowingly to Marvin, needed to be free of the demanding responsibility for Bob. With his excessive range of issues and quirks and only after one brief meeting before the doctor headed off for a month-long vacation, Bob becomes attached to Dr. Marvin and his “Baby Steps” philosophy. Despite Leo making it clear he would be unavailable until he returned after Labor Day and normative social standards, Bob finds a way to contact the doctor for unwarranted phone-calls and eventually manipulates his way to the doorstep of Dr. Marvin’s vacation home. Through the assistance of the psychologist’s family and bitter local enemies and against all of Leo’s wishes and demands, Bob stays with his therapist, eager for his attention and counseling. As the films continues, Dr. Marvin becomes increasing perturbed by Bob’s presence despite everyone else’s increasing affection for him and finally becomes convinced he must murder Bob to rid him from his life and involvement with his family. After a failed attempt to murder and then to institutionalize Bob, an utterly disturbed Dr. Marvin seeks mental health refuge himself from the madness his own patient has inflicted.

The most salient characteristics that serve as the foundation of the overall personality of Bob Wiley revolves around his crippling anxiety. Bob is excessively worrisome, prone to panic, melodramatic, obsessive, and dependent to the point of clinginess. The Big Five trait approach believes that personality can be encapsulated in five facets – extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. According to the Big Five, neuroticism, also known as emotional instability, encompasses nervousness, tension, and anxiety. From this contemporary trait perspective, Bob Wiley undoubtedly has higher than normal levels of neuroticism. His phobias of many germs, heart attacks, exploding bladders, and social situations during which these could be experienced interfere with his ability to live a normal life. For example, Bob would rather climb over forty flights of stairs instead of get in an elevator with other people in it. However, he also would score high on conscientiousness. While constantly overrun by his phobias, Bob is dependable, cautious (though excessively due to his fears), and obviously persistent. One former therapist boasted these aspects as a way to convince Dr. Marvin to take Bob on as a patient, praising his punctuality and early payment habits. Similarly, Bob is imaginative, friendly, trusting, and cooperative, and therefore would fare well on levels of openness and agreeableness, though his therapists may disagree with the latter. His high conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness allow for Bob to work his way into the hearts of Dr. Marvin’s family, neighbors, and all those that witnessed his interview on Good Morning America. His generally pleasant demeanor and lively spirit allows others to overlook his pervasive worries and eccentric behaviors. From a behavioral perspective, many of Bob’s anxieties have been strengthened by reinforcements he has created in his mind. Bob believes that if he pretends to have a condition and enacts its effects, like cardiac arrest or Tourette’s, then the fear of it will temporary subside. Behaviorists like John Watson and B.F. Skinner that studied operant conditioning, the principle of behavior being influenced by its consequences, would say that relief from fear is providing negative reinforcement for those strange actions, increasing the likelihood that Bob will behave like that on future occasions. Also, apparently, social misunderstanding or being perceived in a negative manner by others for his conduct does not serve as a punisher to Bob, which would make him less likely to go through with his induced fits of fake symptoms. This conditioning feeds Bob’s personality as a tense, distressed, histrionic, and somewhat bizarre. Psychologists like Hull, Dollard, and Miller that were involved with social learning and habits would that Bob has learned secondary drives and responses that influence his personality and behaviors. These drives are associated with their outcomes, much like operant conditioning, and links to primary needs and sensations, but emphasize the individual’s internal processes. This means Bob “ranks” the importance of reinforcement and situations in order to generate his response. For Bob Wiley, gaining the attention from his therapist and the counsel he so gravely seeks are rated as some of the most important rewards he can receive and therefore is clingy and intrusive. In the article, “Social Phobia Subtyping with the MMPI-2”, the researchers examined patients with social phobias and their scores on the second version of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, dividing them into categories based on their preliminary socially phobic variances and the clinical findings. What they found were that people in the “third cluster” had primarily neurotic symptoms, characterized by high anxiety, prone to overreacting, inhibition, and insecurity. Also, these subjects tended to have higher scores related to immature and dependent thought processes. This cluster seems a fitting description of Bob Wiley and would probably where he’d be placed. In their study, the researchers found that the individuals in the third cluster indicated the most situations as anxiety-producing, were the most likely to have co-morbid conditions and to be single, and had the greatest improvement in family functioning after therapy. Bob, aside from having multiple, co-morbid phobias, may also suffer from a type of personality disorder, though it’s not completely apparent and would require more in-depth analysis. He shows traces of histrionic and dependent personality types, but it is questionable whether they could meet diagnostic criteria. Also, Bob is divorced and somewhat delusional and in denial about its causes, but by the end of his experience with Dr. Marvin and his family, develops a new relationship and marries Leo’s sister. The similarities between the third cluster and Bob Wiley could suggest that personality can be indicative of possible phobias and psychopathology and there is a relationship between the two. OZ, F. (2013, 06). WHAT ABOUT BOB. WHAT ABOUT BOB. Retrieved 06, 2013, from Oz, F. (2013, June 15). What About Bob. Wikipedia. Retrieved June/July, from

Oz, F. (2013, June 15). What About Bob. youtube. Retrieved June/July, from

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