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ANALYSIS BY

Navya Singhal

M.A. Clinical Psychology

Delhi University; IGNOU

Meerut, India

 
Navya Singhal

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Hello

I am a post-graduate in clinical psychology and have just finished writing a research paper on 'test anxiety in middle school children'.

I am a school counselor by profession and I also do freelance writing.

 
Joined On:
May 30, 2017
Last Active:
July 14, 2018
 

Writer/Host

David Crane

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Gary Halvorson

PsY Rating

The analyst's overall summary, as applicable, of the accuracy of the psychology and the subject's potential to be psychologically influential or manipulative.

A higher rating means the psychology is more accurate and positive.

08/22/2017

'Friends': Decoding How Human Behavior Is Shaped

DECODING ‘FRIENDS’

Friends, one of the most popular American TV series, ran for 10 seasons starting in 1994. The story revolves around a group of six young adults, aged 24-27, trying to figure out their lives with each other’s help and support.

One of the reasons why the show was so popular is that is contains a message about the acceptance of one’s own uniqueness and an opportunity to laugh at our imperfections. In contrast, the show, at times, also reveals lack of acceptance of individuality in each other. To better understand these positive and less positive phenomena, we’ll take a closer look at the behavior patterns of the six characters and their interactions with one another.

Quick Profile of the Six Friends

The first show starts with Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) who flees from her wedding and looks for help from childhood best friend Monica Geller (Courtney Cox), who is a chef. The two end up becoming roommates. Rachel joins Monica's group of friends that include struggling actor Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), business professional Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry), masseuse and musician Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow), and paleontologist Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) who is also Monica's elder brother. The group is often seen hanging out at Central Perk, a Manhattan coffee house, or at Monica and Rachel's nearby apartment, or Joey and Chandler's apartment across the hall.

The episodes typically depict the comic side of the romantic adventures and career issues faced by these six friends, such as Joey auditioning for roles or Rachel seeking jobs in the fashion industry. The six characters each have many dates and serious relationships. Ross and Rachel's intermittent relationship is the most often-recurring storyline; during the show’s ten seasons they repeatedly date and break up, and Ross briefly marries and divorces another woman before he and Rachel marry and then divorce; but they discover they have a child and then finally start dating again. Chandler and Monica date and marry each other, and Phoebe finds and marries the love of her life.

The sitcom articulately represents the lives of young people who live unconventional domestic lives. It portrays the idea that all one needs is a bunch of good friends and that families can be formed through choice.

Monika Geller - She can be considered the mother hen of the group. She is known for her bossy, organised, competitive and perfectionist ways. She has an obsession for cleanliness and is often seen compulsively cleaning and organising her kitchen and living room and even asking others to comply with her ways. Her looking for perfection in everything—from folding napkins in certain ways, to cooking and over-stressing on minute details often irritates her friends. She has immense confidence in her abilities and hates losing. She also comes across as someone who doesn’t like it when people don’t notice her and wants constant attention from everyone. She is also very considerate and selfless and always helps everyone. The fact that she was called ‘the big fat goalie’ when she was in school shows how people get bullied based on their appearance and how prejudiced and biased society can be.

Rachel Green - Rachel’s transformation is from a dependent, rich, and spoiled kid to someone who is independent and can take up responsibilities. She is initially portrayed as someone who finds it difficult to make her own decisions in life and is over dependent on her father’s money. She breaks away from these shackles by fleeing from her wedding to a rich man, with whom she would have led the same life of luxury and comfort. During the course of 10 years, Rachel’s life takes a complete turnaround. Even though she initially faces problems with this new life, she overcomes all the hurdles with the encouragement of her friends and there is a complete transformation in her overall personality.

The psychological theory that human behavior is learned resonates with how Rachel is able to transform. This learning is affected by things like our attitudes, views, and the environment in which this learning takes place. Learning is also an ongoing process and we modify these learned behaviors in different ways to adapt to new environments. When Rachel places herself in a less familiar and certain environment among five friends, it allows her to shed some of her old identity and finding a new identity closer to who she really is.

Rachel is shown to be a fashionista from the time she was in school. She uses this knowledge about fashion that she learned from her immediate environment (friends and family) to obtain coveted jobs in the fashion business. This shows how people use their old knowledge (learned attitudes and behaviors) and modify it to not only adapt to a new environment but also to open up new opportunities for themselves.

Joey Tribbiani - He is a struggling actor who becomes famous for his role on a soap opera. He is a simple guy known for his love for food and womanising ways. There are also many instances which show that he is a bit slow in processing information. Despite the fact that he has a number of short-term girlfriends and often engages in one night stands, he is well intentioned and also respects women. This can be seen when he plans to propose to a single pregnant girl and wants to take the responsibility of her and her baby. He is innocent and is a true friend who will go to any length to help his friends. Joey gives us the inspiration to never give up on our dreams and to continue to work hard towards achieving success.

Pheobe Buffay - Pheobe is often considered crazy by every new person she interacts with, but in reality, she is actually quite street smart. She knows how to conduct herself well and often breaks the ice during awkward moments. If we look closely at her life events and her reactions to them we realise how accurately they depict and verify the cognitive consistency theories of attitude. According to these theories, some amount of consistency is required between a person’s attitudes and behaviors. When this doesn’t happen, the person experiences some kind of mental discomfort, resulting in the person making an attempt to change either their attitudes or behavior so that both fall in the same line of logical consistency. Throughout the series, there are many instances where it is shown that Phoebe is a vegetarian because she does not support the killing of animals. She even breaks up with a man whom she loves just because he shot a bird. This behavior shows that her attitudes and behaviors fall in the logical line of consistency. The fact that she does not like to buy decorative items from a store just because they are not unique tells us that she is creative. According to most psychological theories, creativity is nothing but a novel way of looking at things and finding unique solutions to a complex problem. Her creativity is also displayed in her unique and totally original kind of music. Both these attitudes (choice of unique decorative items and music), though unrelated, again tell us how her attitudes and behaviors are in total sync and do not lack consistency. She speaks her heart out and will do anything on the planet for the people she loves.

Chandler Bing - Chandler works for a big multinational corporation and even though he hates his job, he continues to work there because it pays him well. Eventually, with the encouragement of his wife Monika, and his other friends, he gathers the courage to quit and move into advertising, breaking the stereotypical thought that only youngsters are best suited for these kinds of jobs. This also tells us that it is never too late to start a new chapter in life. He often panics and behaves in awkward ways in social gatherings and even shows signs of anxiety when interacting with women when he meets them for the first time. He often uses sarcasm and his witty sense of humour as a defence mechanism in order to get out of these tricky and awkward social situations. The fact that he had a troubled childhood, with his parents getting divorced and father turning into cross-dressing gay man, had a deep impact on his personality. It is seen in the way he conducts himself around women; has commitment issues and often fails to sustain relationships.

Ross Geller - He is a successful paleontologist who is extremely passionate about his work. He likes to organise things, just like his sister, Monika (displayed when he conducts a quiz between his friends). This tells us that aspects of our behavior are genetically determined and/or are influenced by our immediate environment (our upbringing). Even though he divorced thrice during the 10 seasons that the show ran, and is often laughed off as being the ‘divorcer’, he is shown to be someone who cannot properly hold conversations with people of the opposite gender. In other words, he shows signs of anxiety and panics when he interacts with a woman for the first time. He is not only intelligent, but is also very loving and caring. He takes responsibilities with ease and is very supportive in nature. His love for Rachel stood the test of time and by the end of the series they are married. His relationships usually involved the jealousy factor, something that according to most psychologists, acts as a threat to a person’s self esteem and often results in a person taking extreme steps in order to overcome these feelings.

Insights Into Character Interactions

Some forms of prejudice and stereotyping are displayed throughout the series. These displays influence what is known as the social identity theory, which is the general human tendency to look for a positive self-image. For some people, their social identity is enhanced in an synthetic manner by categorizing people as in-group and out-group. This need for social identity often supports the formation of prejudices. Almost throughout the series, Ross, who is probably the most intelligent one in the group, is ridiculed by his friends for his smart choices and intelligent or informative talks. It is often seen that his friends totally cut him off when he is speaking because they feel he is too nerdy and boring, bringing forth the stereotypical attitude that intelligent people are boring and ‘uncool’. It is also shown that despite being so intelligent, he was typecasted as an out-group person by the popular kids of the school. It’s also possible that Ross’ intelligence was envied, and social pressure was used in an attempt to push Ross into acting more like everyone else.

Rachel, who was a popular girl in school, does not even notice the intelligent Ross who is in love with her. She was even rude to another student because he had been a fat guy. These are symbols of biased, stereotypical, prejudiced, and discriminatory behavior. A repercussion of such a negative behavior is also seen when it is revealed that a hate club for Rachel was formed by these two boys! Rachel’s rudeness during her teenage years may also be indicative of a deep-seated sense of not being good enough or special enough and led to her acting out in negative ways.

Phoebe engages in pro-social behavior when she gives away a huge amount of money to her friend Chandler, just to encourage him to quit smoking and also donates money to a poor lady. Few of the major features of pro-social behavior are that it should be done a selfless manner without expecting any kind of gains in return, should be done willingly and not because of any kind of pressure and should also involve some form of monitory or physical difficulty for the person who is engaging a pro-social behavior. And since she did not even think twice before she gave them this money, we can say that she was one of the very few people who do something for the benefit of others, without any ulterior motive of their own.

All through the series the friends enter into a number of short term relationships and show six of the seven types of love (liking, romantic love, infatuation, fatuous love, empty love and compassionate love). Five out of six friends also find their true love and end up in long term committed relationships showing consummate love, which involves all the three basic components of love: passion, intimacy, and commitment.

The story also very boldly touches upon the rights of people to choose their life partners irrespective of their genders and even shows the marriage of a lesbian couple, a topic which is equally sensitive even 23 years later.

One very good thing that this story teaches us is that we should accept that no two individuals are the same. Joey who is probably a little lower in IQ as compared to the rest of his friends, is never ridiculed about it and is in fact loved by all. And so is Phoebe, who is completely different and unique in her own sweet way. It carefully reminds us that everyone has qualities which are unique to them and that they should be appreciated for these qualities.

What This Story Shows Us About How Human Behavior is Shaped

Human behavior is a function of both a person's attributes and the environment: Human behavior can be modified and controlled in both positive and negative ways by groups and other socialization agents, such as the media, school, and parents. We see throughout the show that people shape our lives and behaviors in crucial ways. They are the sources of our most intense pleasures and sadly even our deepest sorrows and pains. They offer vast amounts of information to us and are the mirrors through which we can understand ourselves better. As a result, a person can show different fundamental traits when exposed to different environments. But inner strength is shown when a person’s same fundamental traits appear across a variety of environments because they don’t allow the environment to change who they fundamentally are in any negative sense. This is shown when Ross retains his intellectual curiosity in spite of years of being pressured to change. We can also say that Rachel allowed the environment to change her behavior, that is until she became older and established a stronger and more secure personality. We also see that Joey, Monica, and Phoebe’s fundamental traits were fairly consistent through childhood and adulthood. But in the security of their group and social world, they allowed themselves to open to new possibilities, such as Monica and Chandler’s eventual marriage. Chandler, like Rachel, was more influenced by his environment, but seemed to have found a certain inner strength in his relationship with Monica, who was grounded in who she was.

In all cases, as in everyone’s life, the characters are also influenced by that which they can’t control, but found fundamental stability in their group relationship.

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