Rutgers course intersects psychology with favorite scary movies

“Silence of The Lambs” is one of various scary movies that Rutgers students in the Department of Psychiatry will be watching and analyzing this October during the “31 Knights of Halloween” course. 
Photo by Photo by Wikimedia | The Daily Targum“Silence of The Lambs” is one of various scary movies that Rutgers students in the Department of Psychiatry will be watching and analyzing this October during the “31 Knights of Halloween” course. 

Horror film villains are the subject of Rutgers psychiatry students’ research this month, as they prepare for Halloween.

From Freddy Krueger to the ghosts in "Paranormal Activity," students in the Department of Psychiatry at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS), will watch 31 of the most terrifying horror films through the course “31 Knights of Halloween,” according to Rutgers Today.

The course has been around for three years, and the future physicians are asked to post their synopses of the character’s mental health on Reddit, which are also shared on the Psychology Today blog, according to the article. 

“The point is to discuss the exaggerated and fictionalized portrayals in movies while being cautious not to stigmatize individuals with mental illness,” said Anthony Tobia, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry, who is teaching the course. 

Students will evaluate horror genre classics such as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "The Silence of the Lambs," according to the article. 

Gianna Seeland, a Robert Wood Johnson Medical School senior in Tobia’s class, posted her synopsis of "Paranormal Activity" on Reddit, according to the article. She concluded that the film serves as an opportunity to teach dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder, as the main character interacts with a demon that is viewed as an emotional dissociation resulting in her inability to remember events. 

The course is part of several cyclical discussions that analyze the psychiatry of pop culture, Tobia said, that the department has created to teach the next generation of doctors. Other discussions include the "Twilight Zone" New Year’s Day Marathon, Shark Week and 12 Slays of Christmas.

Tobia first began infusing medical education with pop culture with NBC’s "Seinfeld," when he had students watch the show to review mental disorders through discussion of the interpersonal relationships of the characters, according to the article. His “Psy-feld” curriculum gained national attention. 

“One of the critical outcomes of using engaging material from popular culture to educate the next generation of physicians is the level of enthusiasm generated in the learner,” Tobia said. “This is especially true for the majority of students who will pursue a career outside of psychiatry and will need to identify co-occurring mental disorders in the patients they will care for."