Clockwork Orange Psychology Review

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Psychological opinion of the movie Clockwork Orange

Submitted: August 11, 2008

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Submitted: August 11, 2008



Jacqueline Paduano

Clockwork Orange

“Goodness is something to be chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.” The words spoken to Alex by the prison Chaplain who disagrees with a behavior modification approach to reform Alex from his evil ways. Classical conditioning was one method that changed the thought process regarding organisms behavior and “the mind”.

In the movie Clockwork Orange, Alex transforms from a gallivanting immoral delinquent to a prison mate who is used in a government experiment that tried to rehabilitate convicts through a new medical treatment called “The Ludvico Technique“. This therapy is used as a fix all to end the epidemic of violent and malicious acts prevalent in that society. The idea was influenced by a psychologist named Ivan Pavlov. The procedure of classical conditioning involved pairing a neutral stimulus with a stimulus of some significance. When presented the stimulus that holds some significance, the reaction is usually an automatic reflex; these are the unconditioned stimulus (US) and the unconditioned response (UR) respectively. Over time if they are frequently paired the two stimuli become associated and the specimen reacts to the conditioned stimulus, this reaction is called a condition response. The classic example of this was Pavlov’s salivating dogs. Pavlov used a bell to let the dogs know food was present. The bell was the neutral stimulus, but became a conditioned stimulus, by pairing the unconditioned stimulus which was meat powder. After repeatedly ringing the bell the dogs started to salivate solely to the tone. Pavlov called this learned relationship a conditioned response. In the movie Clockwork Orange the injections Alex received was an unconditioned stimulus and the sickness he felt afterwards was the unconditioned response. After the process of conditioning him, every time he would see violent video clips he would feel unbearably physically ill. The psychologists that ran this aversive treatment then starting pairing Beethoven’s 9th symphony with the video clips knowing it was his favorite tune. They then released him back into society and many people he had tortured previous to his jail sentence had found him and wanted revenge. He was unable to retaliate due to the overwhelming sickness he received from the violence of the situation. He had generalized every act of violence and all of it made him ill. The experiment with “Little Albert” done by John B. Watson showed how the child generalized its fear , the original white rat was the feared stimulus, Albert became afraid of many other white stimuli such as white cotton, a white rabbit, and a fur coat.

One man in particular wanted revenge from the heinous acts Alex committed and locked him in a room playing Beethoven’s 9th symphony which drove Alex absolutely mad to the point of attempted suicide. This scene portrays an extreme effect behavior modification can supposedly have on an individual. A cognitive behaviorist named E.C. Tolman accepted the behaviorist incentive for making psychology into a tangible science yet felt Watson and Skinner were too radical. Tolman felt Watson’s study of stimulus-response was on a microscopic level, yet the focus of study should be on a larger scale, he believed we should study organisms as a whole, to see the meaning behind their natural behavior. In the movie the psychologists that exploit Alex as a subject of study, took the Skinner/Watson approach to radical behavior modification. They were interested in seeing if they could make solid progress that could be scientifically quantified. The government allowed this to happen because they wanted prisoners to be rehabilitated and placed back as a functioning member of society.

If an individual lacks higher consciousness and can be completely altered by behavior modification he is not responsible for his actions. He is a result of his society. If Alex cannot be held accountable to himself or others for these gruesome crimes how do we punish him for them? This I believe was the behaviorist approach of attempting to fix societies wrongdoers. Instead of punishing, they would “cure”. Skinner believed the feeling of freedom weighs more than actual freedom, which he thought was an illusion. He yearned to achieve a utopian society through limitations of personal freedom by altering behavior. As stated above “Goodness is something to be chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.” is a very powerful quote because it is the complete opposing view of a behaviorist psychologist, it recognizes that man has a higher consciousness and is responsible for his own actions. If this is so, no cure can do the trick man must have an innate hunger to change his ways. At no time during the movie did Alex actually want to be cured of his illness, he wanted freedom from jail and felt this was his way out. Society eventually found his behavioral change unethical and his behavior modification was reversed. By them believing modification was unethical means he was in control of his own behaviors and people can not be cured by conditioning.

The article I chose relating to class discussion is “Cognitive Behavior Modification of Hyperactivity- Impulsivity and Aggression: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Studies.” This article deals with modifying the behavioral problems of students who are disruptive with a different approach than conditioning. The technique researched is cognitive behavior modification. The primary focus of the study is to supply individuals with imperative tools to guide their own behavior. This is accomplished by cognitive framework to concentrate on self control, scholastic, and social issues. The researchers use cognitive behavior modification to alter principal cognitions and thought processes that have an impact on observable behavior. This was done by behavior therapy (e.g., feedback, reinforcement) connected with a cognitive method (e.g., thinks out loud) to teach cognitive tactics, such as temper control, and self coping to alter behavior. The students were told to speak of their plan of action aloud of a given task in sequential order. The goal was to move from overt to cover self talk while doing a project, thereupon improving their concentration and understanding of the task and consequently decreasing off-task behavior. Treatments containing the cognitive feature were effective in reducing aggression and hyperactivity in the treated individuals. The technique studied is cognitive behavior modification. It is a hybrid of the behaviorist approach and the cognitive approach. The objective is to change innate behavior to reflect covert actions and be altered lastingly. I believe this is more of a benevolent and ethical approach than attempting to classically condition a human being. I feel more research will be heavily done in the future and could have positive results on future generations with learning and behavioral disorders.

In closing Clockwork Orange is a radical depiction of behavior modification used on human beings. The extreme behaviorist deny consciousness but as we have moved into a new era we see the importance of the mind and innate functioning processes on covert behavior.


Work Cited

Kubrick, S. (producer, director , and screenwriter) (1971) Clockwork Orange (U.S.A.)

Robinson R.T., Smith W. S., Miller M. D., Brownell T. M (1999) Cognitive Behavior Modification of Hyperactivity- Impulsivity and Aggression: A Meta- Analysis of School- Based Studies. Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 91, No. 2, 195- 203.

Watson J. B. 1929 Behaviorism the Modern Note in Psychology.









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