looking beyond a psychological analysis of the movie rain man

Abstract

            The movie “Rain Man’ is a story about a man suffering from a form of autism known as Asperger’s Disorder. This disability deprived him, Charlie, of several social interactions with people which left him unable to form social bonds and became distressed when his normal routine was disrupted. However, he possesses several exotic skills.

            The autism spectrum illnesses cover a wide range of conditions and symptoms, from severe mental retardation to mild social impairment. Generally, people with autism are having problems with social interactions, such as maintaining eye contact with other people or reading body language. They may also exhibit some conventional behavior, such as obsession with lining up objects.

Looking Beyond: A Psychological Analysis of the Movie “Rain Man”

Learning to speak may come almost naturally, but performing mental arithmetic is another thing most of us have to work at.  So it seems impossible to imagine that the capacity to perform lightning – fast mathematical analysis and calculations on a grand scale is actually present in us all. However, only a few people are able to tap on these capabilities and display seemingly effortless skills to solve complication mathematical problems. They are called savants.

The autism spectrum illnesses cover a wide range of conditions and symptoms, from severe mental retardation to mild social impairment. Generally, people with autism are having problems with social interactions, such as maintaining eye contact with other people or reading body language. They may also exhibit some conventional behavior, such as obsession with lining up objects.

In the movie “Rain Man,” the title character, which was portrayed by Dustin Hoffman, was unable to form social bonds with the people in his environment and became distressed when his regular routine was disturbed. Nevertheless, he could perform extraordinary mental arithmetic and calculations.

Some cases of autism have genetic basis and have been associated with some nucleotide mutations in the DNA that affect neuroligins, a type of molecules which link nerve cells together.

In one study, researchers introduced a mutated form of the neuroligin-3 molecule extracted from the human genome into test mice. After the injection, they then tested the social interaction of the animals’ by placing them in a cage with other ‘normal’ mouse. The genetically engineered mice spent less time near the strange mouse than their normal littermates and preferred to spend time with inanimate objects.

The genetically engineered mice were significantly, by some means better than the introduced mice. Especially in learning a water maze, in which they had to find and remember the exact location of an underwater podium. Consequently, they were also better at relocating the new position of the podium after it was moved to another area.

In the United States, about 1.5 million people are suffering from autism spectrum disorders, with boys affected more often than girls.

As mentioned earlier, despite extraordinary brain activity, people that are suffering from autism often demonstrate other peculiar behaviors. This might be due to a relatively low inactivity in one part of their brain, especially around the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex.

This region of the brain helps us discern the meaning and significance of what another person is thinking. For instance, when responding to someone looking straight at you, as compared to someone who’s looking away, the brain discerns a difference. When the other person looks away, the brain quiets down. With angry expressions, the brain may quiet down, because when a negative gaze is averted, it is no longer seen as a direct threat.
Autistic children, even when gazing directly into someone’s eyes, don not recognize visual cues and consequently do not process that kind of information. That may be the reason why children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders have varying degrees of impairment in communication skills and social interactions and display restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior

In the movie, the savant brother Raymond executed several stereotypical behaviors that point to his suffering from autism, in the form of Asperger’s disorder.

His undergarments must always come from K-Mart in Cincinnati, and his breakfast must always be the same each day. To Raymond, routine is always a ‘must-do’ in order for him to move about his environment. A flight would have saved him much time, but his brother insisted that planes can crash, so they absolutely have to drive the multi hour ride.

Another noteworthy episode in the movie is the fact that the savant brother Raymond is able to perceive and relay his opinions in a peculiarly normal way.

References

 McHugh, P. R. (1993, September). Multiple Personality Disorder. Harvard Medical School Letter

UT Southwestern Medical Center (2007, September 8). ‘Rain Man’ Mice Provide Model For Autism. ScienceDaily.

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