To complement our summer reading list, I’ve compiled a few film and show recommendations for your viewing pleasure. The selections below illuminate aspects of our psychology and society that we may not always get the chance to see—from massive fraud to false confessions to dystopian futures. As with our summer reads, share your own favorite behavioral viewing using the hashtag #BSciSummer.
There Will Be Blood…Tests. Or Will There?
Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes had a plan to revolutionize (or disrupt in Silicon-Valley speak) health care. She vowed that her company, Theranos, would produce Edison—a miracle contraption not much bigger than a desktop printer that could conduct over 200 blood tests on a single drop of blood. Investors lined up. The company shot to a $9 billion valuation. Holmes, often compared to Steve Jobs, appeared, in her own black turtleneck, on the cover of Fortune. But Holmes got over her skis. Edison didn’t work. It never could. In The Inventor, director Alex Gibney tries to unravel the story of Holmes, Edison, and Theranos—one of the biggest frauds in recent memory. Throughout the documentary, Dan Ariely pops up to offer his behavioral take on how promise turned to prison—potentially 20 years for Holmes. And if after the documentary your appetite for bogus blood tests (or schadenfreude) isn’t satisfied, check out the ABC Nightline podcast Dropout or the book Bad Blood by John Carreyrou—the Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter who helped break the story.
The Exonerated Five
The stories of Kevin Richardson, Antron Mccray, Raymond Santana Jr., Korey Wise, and Yusef Salaam—who you may know collectively as The Central Park Five—aren’t easy to forget. The five were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned as teenagers for the rape of a jogger in Central Park. When a colleague suggested I report on the case in 2014 after they finally reached a settlement with the City of New York (though the city admitted no wrongdoing), I interviewed Saul Kassin, a professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Williams College, about his research on the psychology of false and coerced confessions. Now, the story of the five is back in a powerful new form. Director Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us is a dramatic portrayal of how the boys, now men, were interrogated, prosecuted, and ultimately exonerated.
When the Abyss Stares Back
Nothing unsettles me like a Black Mirror episode. I confess I often avoid watching it because it feels too real—and I’m hardly in a good mood after watching a disturbing and warped future that I’m convinced is inevitable (at least for a few hours). When I am able to face my tech dystopia fears, Black Mirror delivers, and its stories always push the viewer to reflect on who we are and who we might become. It’s back for its fifth series with three new episodes. Grab the popcorn and put down the evil device that’s a portal into a never ending sense of loneliness and inadequacy and symbolic of society’s slip into a psychological nightmare. Okay, smartphones aren’t that bad, but they do ruin a good show, so make sure they’re on silent at least.
Neurodiversity in the Workforce
For some feel-good viewing, I recommend The Employables. It’s a television series that follows individuals with Tourette syndrome or autism as they look for work. Based on the U.K. series Employable ME, which aired a few years ago, it’s in its first season in the U.S. It’s an intriguing look into the obstacles and opportunities for neurodiversity in the workplace. I learned about the series from clinical psychologist Ali Mattu, who appears in the first season. If you’re interested in clinical psychology and mental health (and science fiction) he has an entertaining and educational YouTube channel called The Psych Show.
In Case You Missed It…Blame Your Friends
Have you ever come home from the perfect evening with your friends—a long dinner followed by a few hours of pleasant conversation—only to find a piece of food stuck between your teeth as you’re getting ready to brush before bed? There you were, telling interesting stories, making people laugh, smiling for hours after the broccoli was served, and not a single one of them had the decency to tell you one of the florets had become your incisor’s best friend. Well, for me, the next two recommendations are like that.
I recently saw Three Identical Strangers and Wild Wild Country, both of which came out last year. For the first few weeks after I watched them, I tried to work them into all my conversations. “Have you seen …?” I’d inevitably ask. Of course they’d seen it, it came out last year, they’d say. Why didn’t they tell me!?
If your friends let you down too, then take a moment to catch up this summer on these two truth-is-definitely-stranger-than-fiction stories. Three Identical Strangers tells the story of three identical twin brothers separated at birth and placed in three different adoptive families, with no knowledge of each other, because of a twisted psychiatry experiment on nature versus nurture. Wild Wild Country revisits the time a small ranch town in Oregon became the site of a utopian colony of red-, orange-, and maroon- wearing followers of the Indian guru Osho in the early 1980s. What ensues is a series of case studies in ingroup–outgroup conflict, political power, organizational behavior, you name it. If there weren’t video from the time, I wouldn’t believe it ever happened.