Who is the fastest: Superman or Flash? In a fight between Spiderman and Batman who would win? For a generation that has grown up on comics, these questions provided food for thought as a kid. The unparalleled success of Superhero themed movies in Hollywood is another example of a generation that has grown up but not out of their childhood love for comic books. What is it precisely that makes comics an obsession for a lot of people? Think of Sheldon and group from ‘The Big Bang Theory’ – a bunch of scientists who lived their lives surrounded by comic books and continued their passion well into their 30’s. Is there a particular personality type that gets addicted to comics? What about comics and superheroes attract audience in such huge numbers? Psychology has answers to these questions.
Learning Theory suggests three primary types of learners: Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic. Comics are a major attraction for visual learners. These types of learners gain information majorly by visualizing what they study and when a book does that for them in the form of illustrations, charts, graphs, diagrams and pictures, it makes their job that much easier. Hence, information processing speeds are increased for visual learners when they read comics. Consequently, information retention is better and the impact comics create on their minds is lasting and strong.
If we consider the Sheldon stereotype from ‘The Big Bang Theory’, there is a particular type of children who love comics. Childhood loneliness is a strong influencing factor. In the face of social discomfort and lack of a friend circle, it is not uncommon for children to turn to imaginary friends and/or fictional characters. With the rise of urbanization, nuclear families, families opting for single child and unavailability of parents’ time for the children, there has also been a rise in childhood loneliness resulting from a lack of peer group adjustment combined with resultant poor social skills. Hence, the epidemic of loneliness leads children straight into the comfort and warmth of relatable comic characters and the world of comic books.
Comic books serve as a tool guide for children who are bullied. There is inspiration to fight back and the hope of victory of good over evil. Most of the superhero stories begin with a staple character – an ordinary guy, with no special powers, often bullied by peers and not popular in the peer group – nothing Hero-like, in short. Then one day the protagonist attains super powers, almost by a freak accident and lo and behold! His/her world is changed. Ultimately, the hero triumphs over the bad guys. There is a lot in this staple story that would inspire and connect with bullied children. Social Psychology also suggests that comics have an impact on children’s pro-social behavior, leadership ability and attitudes.
Psychological development theorists such as Erik Erikson and Freud have put enormous emphasis on adolescent years in the overall development of a child’s personality. A child who is into comic hence, is shaped by them largely during his adolescence. Comics help in developing their emotions and social reactions. Albert Bandura’s Bobo Doll Experiment in 1977 suggested that children often emulate learnt behavior without due consideration to whether it is good or bad. This is termed as ‘Social Learning’. Hence, it is crucial for comics to be constructive and positive in order to better shape the minds of children and adults alike. Violent and sexist tendencies prevalent in comic books should be checked. The onus of producing comic books responsibly lies with the creators and is a huge one as comics not only shape minds but also shape minds.