Run Jenny Run: The Social-Cognitive Analysis of Jenny Curran in Forest Gump February 20, 2010 Capella University CST5214 – Theories of Personality Introduction This paper will be a two-part personality analysis of Jenny from the movie Forrest Gump (1994). Jenny is the childhood friend of the movie’s lead character Forrest. After the death of her mother when she is five, Jenny is left to the mercy of her abusive father until she goes to live with her grandmother.
Jenny learns to be a survivor early in life. Jenny is a kind and helpful friend from the moment she meets her lifetime companion Forrest Gump. Throughout life, she leans on him for emotional support while allowing him to lean on her for acceptance and encouragement. As Jenny grows older, she remains rebellious in many areas of her life. Jenny faces a poor self-image, struggles with her identity, and becomes involved with sex and drugs, eventually contemplating suicide.
Jenny is a self destructive, promiscuous, and an insecure woman trying to find her place in the world. She finds herself running from the memory of her abusive past into one destructive environment to the next, having the occasional run-in with Forrest along the way. Jenny loves him from a distance because of her inability to feel worthy of a genuine, healthy relationship. Due to her poor life choices, she eventually succumbs to an early death from an unnamed virus, presumably HIV, leaving behind Forrest and their son.
Jenny is a dynamic character with many flaws and, occasionally, redeeming qualities. Her psychodynamic and social cognitive behaviors reveal much about how we develop as unique beings. This analysis will involve five theoretical components of personality. By evaluating the character, Jenny, within the film Forrest Gump, and thus incorporating the above psychosocial theories, we will better understand the dynamics of behavior associated with human personality characteristics. Section 1: Character Personality Matrix Theory |Major Components | | |Structure |Process |Growth and Development |Psychopathology |Change | |Psychodynamic |Jenny has a weakened ego |Jenny suffers from a distorted |Jenny’s development from a child |Jenny exhibits a conflict of her |Jenny’s altered behavior toward | |Theory |caused by an internal |reality and has serious anxiety |into adulthood became manipulated|dreams and fears. She |the end of the movie may be in | | |conflict. |caused by childhood abuse from |by numerous traumatic |contradicts herself when she runs|part, acquired through life | | | |her father as well as traumatic |experiences. Beginning with the |from her abusive past into |lessons and trial and error. | | |events she has experienced in |abuse from her father and then |relationships that are just as | | | | |her adult life. She suppresses |her continued choice in abusive |abusive. | | | | |her feelings and may be living |dominated by domestic partners. | | | | | |in a state of denial. |Jenny is living a distorted | | | | | | |reality. | | |Social Cognitive |Jenny is a talented singer |Jenny lacks self-regulation; she|Jenny’s development of |Her problems in self-efficacy |Jenny transforms toward the end | |Theory |and musician with poor |lacks self-control with regard |self-efficacy in childhood |begin when she sabotages her |of the movie. She appears to | |. |self-perception and low |to her promiscuity and drug use. |actually begins well. She does |dreams of being a legitimate folk|have acquired the self-esteem to| | |self-esteem.
Jenny has a |She evaluates herself as not |not care if Forrest is |singer when she poses for a nude |establish a new life for herself| | |desire to “reach people on a|being worthy of a normal, |intellectually slow or that he |magazine. She sacrifices her |and her son. The result of her | | |personal level” but no |healthy relationship. She |wears leg braces. In addition, |self-respect when she agrees to |acquiring a “normal” set of | | |specific goal or realistic |observed her father’s abusive |she encourages Forrest to run |sing topless.
Jenny further |thought patterns and healthy | | |path for achieving her |behavior as a child and learned |from bullies. Later in life, she|complicates her self-efficacy |behaviors has dramatically | | |dreams. Her standards for |that abusive behavior by men is |joins the peace movement, which |when she is self-contradictory |improved her self-efficacy. | | |living aren’t high, and she |normal and acceptable. |demonstrates a stance against |about joining a peace movement | | | |doesn’t seek to improve her | |violence.
Her poor decisions |against violence yet seeks out | | | |situation in life with good | |eventually complicate her |violent, abusive relationships. | | | |decisions. Instead, she | |self-efficacy. She is resistant |Jenny’s maladaptive behavior is a| | | |makes poor decisions that | |to change because she finds |result of the dysfunctional | | |lead to her consistently | |comfort in what she knows. She |learning observed or directly | | | |repeating self-destructive | |gets involved with a group of |experienced. Jenny has issues | | | |behavior. | |peers that introduces her to drug|with commitment and struggles to | | | | | |use. She continues down a |see her own self-worth.
Running | | | | | |self-destructive path. |from the past, she finds herself | | | | | | |comforted in the same patterns of| | | | | | |abuse. | | Section II: Application of Personality Theory Theory Description and Rationale In 1963, Richard Walters and Albert Bandura proposed a theory known as the Social Cognitive Theory.
This social view is a type of therapy that places emphasis on the consequence of changes involved in the sense of value or efficacy. Self-efficacy is better defined as the manner in which humans establish how to feel, think, and behave. It is the perceived ability to cope with specific situations, and when interruption occurs throughout the growing process, maladaptive behavior is evident. Humans are able to learn throughout life while inversely utilizing the ability to unlearn poor behavior while participating in therapy. The theory has two clear points that allow insight into human behavior; they include internal and external determinants. The two determining factors have a symbiotic relationship of behavior, because they remain inseparable. As the internal and external nfluence behavior exhibited in the future, Bandura insisted that the all three characteristics were the basis of his assessment model. The Social Cognitive Theory places emphasis on the factors that affect and drive motivation while the theory’s assertion remains that the factors do not cause a certain behavior, but that a person’s self-concept drives a certain response to a given situation. Humans are contributors and consumers to their own environments with respect to their social sphere, although their environment enables the establishment of behavior characteristics through each decision a person makes. The human mind has vast opportunities and in light of this theory it is possible to discern human behavior in a cause and effect relationship. They can symbolize and deduct meanings from symbols, learn, self-regulate, and self-reflect, among other things, and these capabilities help them define their own personality” (Pajares, 2002). “Modeling can cause new behaviors, facilitate existing behaviors, change inhibitions, and arouse emotions” (Pervin, 2005). Modeling is associated with a live individual “model” that is in a person’s life to demonstrate how one should act and react. Many humans in this technological age blend a variation of concepts from television, books, and films of which are “symbolic” in nature. The utilization of the social cognitive theory to analyze Jenny in the film Forrest Gump is a consequence of the author’s discernment of the theory to transcend Jenny.
While many other theories are more structured, most aspects of the behavioral and cognitive theories tend to be the most systematic of all the personality theories. The rigidity of too much structure can be a detriment to a person’s cognitive well being. Character Description Jenny’s social cognitive perspective is a fun loving, musically talented woman, but her poor self-perception and low self-efficacy hinder her abilities to make sound cognitive decisions. Self-efficacy is associated with a since of immobilization regarding culpable situations. This also refers to an inability to enable a goal setting thought process that should self-regulate.
Self-regulation refers to the prioritization of life’s many choices, which places Jenny in a situation where behavior regulation is extremely challenging and often results in the wrong decision. While Jenny’s father tortured her as a child with direct physical and sexual abuse, all she could pray was, “Dear God, make me a bird, so I could fly far, far, far away from here. ” (Tishe, Finerman, & Zemeckis, 1994) By enduring a daily maladaptive environment, Jenny evolves into a maladaptive young woman. The existence of deprived self-perception, self-efficacy, and self-regulation allows Jenny to have a poor self-concept. Jenny’s emerging transformation is apparent when she begins waitressing and re-opens the lines of communication with Forrest.
As this confidence is reaffirmed, gradual improvement of self-efficacy will evolve. From a cognition aspect, Jenny seems responsible and is able to verbalize her flight syndrome to a confused Forrest Gump. In the case of the psychodynamic theory, Jenny is seen as a weak soul who has been continuously abused and gravitates toward this abusive behavior with regards to the males in her life. An ongoing internal battle exists when trauma is induced at an impressionable age. Jenny is haunted her entire life, but to a large extent she remains consciously unaware of what exactly has been haunting her. Many situations were more bearable for Jenny when there was a door to escape through.
Forrest always hears from Jenny that she loves him but she continuously leaves him for some new experience. As for suicidal tendencies, they do exist for her, and seem to be fueled when she is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It remains possible that Jenny was experiencing cathartic hypnosis also known as a free-associative method. This method contributed to an internal resolution from within that set all of the maladaptive associations free. Character analysis Structure From a very young age, Jenny wants to be a singer. Jenny befriended Forrest from their very first encounter on the bus. As a socially adept young woman, Jenny’s encouraging spirit is evident throughout the whole story.
She seems to be an “Angel” according to Forrest. (Tishe, Finerman, & Zemeckis, 1994) Every time a bully attacks Forrest, she is there to yell. “Run Forrest, run! ” (Tishe, Finerman, & Zemeckis, 1994). Jenny’s advice to Forrest was simple. “If you are ever in trouble Forrest you just run, run as fast as you can…. ” Under Jenny’s advice Forrest always ran, which becomes a literal therapy for Forrest in the end of the story. While Jenny would run both literally and figuratively, she would follow her own advice. When Jenny would run away from Forrest into abusive relationships, the trouble for Jenny was the idea of a healthy relationship with Forrest.
Therefore, she would run from Forrest as Forrest would run from his own troubles. When applying the social cognitive theory a poor self-perception is obvious. Jenny finally states to Forrest “she is not good enough to marry,” Jenny is of the opinion that Forrest can find someone who is a better person and is deserving of a more loyal mate. Acceptance is apparent when Jenny admits that this is the reason for her running away from him. The reason she accepts is that, “I was just messed up” (Tishe, Finerman, & Zemeckis, 1994). Jenny likewise has a poor self-efficacy. According to Bandura (1986) in Pajares (2002), self-efficacy is the perceived ability to cope with specific situations.
It is the people’s “judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances. ” Having a poor self-efficacy hinders Jenny from achieving her goals of being a famous singer due to self-efficacy being the fundamental of motivation. Negative emotional reactions occur when one has the perception that a task is beyond their abilities. Additionally, negativity continues to be a constant obstacle when a new opportunity arises, or the anticipation of an experience, which disallows one’s ability to set goals and achieve them. Alluding to the metaphor of wanting to become a bird and fly away, but obviously Jenny was unable. In summary, though Jenny had dreams of a good future, she did not possess any goal orientation.
According to the social cognitive theory, goals are those that “guide us in establishing priorities among rewards and in selecting among situations that enable us to go beyond momentary influences and to organize our behavior over extended periods of time,” (Pervin, 2005). Jenny failed to establish her priorities and overcome the bad influences in her life and to have an organized behavior over a period of time. Hence, since attending an all-girl school where structure is a detriment, she has been displaying maladaptive behavior, which includes such behaviors as getting into drugs, being with bad crowds, having suicidal tendencies, as well as having relationship phobias.
Jenny’s greatest achievement is evident when she eventually prevails over her maladaptive behavior toward the close of the film. This alteration, from the point of view of social cognitive theory, is not impossible. All Jenny needed is someone to “model” or a person who was able to empathize. One would hope that a role model like this could have existed in her life aside from her Grandma. Process As a child, her father as well as the “school bullies” who abused Forrest in her presence, exposed Jenny to abusive treatment. While in attendance at an all-girl school, Jenny experienced many negative influences that were possibly acceptable in her school environment.
This exclusive college atmosphere lead Jenny to an environment that gave positive rewards to bad behavior by means of acceptance, Jenny eventually displayed the model behavior. When within an environment that accepts negative behavior, it is easy to be drawn into a repetitious habit of bad behavior. This vicious cycle enables the lack of ability to self-regulate. Self-regulation involves an individual’s ability to control their behavior rather than mechanically reacting to external influences (Pervin, 2005). The ability to self-regulate is simply referred to as the ability to have behavior that is socially acceptable. While it is apparent that Jenny’s behavior is not acceptable, she could have deflected the negative influences modeled to her as a youngster.
According to the social cognitive theory, behavior is maintained, by expectancies or anticipated consequences and individuals must learn to set appropriate goals for themselves and reward themselves with positive rewards. When guilt arises, the person is unable to model such behavior. Moreover, “behavior is not exclusively regulated by external forces; there is a process of self-reinforcement through which individuals reward themselves for attaining the standards they set for themselves (Pervin, 2005)”. Jenny is not goal fixated which in essence forces her to be unable to self regulate. Growth and Development While Jenny is experiencing low self-efficacy, it is expected that Jenny will suffer difficulties associated with a maladaptive personality.
These negative personality characteristics are a direct result of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse instigated by Jenny’s father, which is her “model. ” Indirectly, Jenny observes many aggressive situations. These instances are apparent several times throughout the film such as when Forrest arrives at the bar Jenny is singing in, and a man tries to touch Jenny while she is performing and Forrest dashes up and attacks the man or when attending a “Black Panther party,” Jenny’s boyfriend smacked her across the face, and Forrest again retaliates. (Tishe, Finerman, & Zemeckis, 1994) Jenny is a passive person who has adapted to maladaptive decision making.
The negativity in her life poses the prospect of a life of drug use, leading to the use of drugs and potential relationship phobias. These continual participations in maladaptive behavior leads Jenny to a life entangled in drugs, poor communication in relationships, and thus relationship phobia is a reoccurring issue. Although, Jenny loves Forrest, she is continually dissatisfied with her life and has isolated herself from the people she loves causing suicidal tendencies to become evident. Psychopathology When observing the absence of a positive role model in Jenny’s life, one could easily state that an enabled dysfunctional expectation as well as an inadequate self-perception exists.
These perceptions arise in childhood with the lack of adequate “models” and strong positive reinforcement which is taught in a functional learning environment. Jenny could not even consistently maintain a positive relationship with Forrest. Every time Forrest confronts her with the possibility of a healthy relationship, an emergency arises and Jenny leaves again. This behavior is indicative of a possible relationship phobia. The use of inadequate models has enabled Jenny to have dysfunctional expectations and a poor self-concept. The physical act of “running” from ones problems is characterized as relationship phobia. Forrest says continually throughout the film, “Jenny, I love you. (Tishe, Finerman, & Zemeckis, 1994) Jenny also conveys her love to Forrest, but it is apparent that Jenny is not fond of her lingering memories of childhood in Alabama. A relationship with Forrest means returning to a place where great mental anguish existed within Jenny’s life; thus initiating the repetition of the flight response. Additionally, Jenny is afraid of emotional pain, which again instigates the lifestyle that Jenny leads. Jenny does not want to revisit her past, and experience the ridicule she may receive from others if she maintains a relationship with Forrest, but as Jenny accepts Forrest for who he is, she realizes deep down she feels safe with Forrest because he has always protected her.
According to the social cognitive theory, dysfunctional expectations and self-conceptions have a great role in learning overt behavior, such that people learn, erroneously, to expect painful things to follow some events or to associate pain with an event (Pervin, 2005). In Jenny’s case, relationship phobia is present not only with Forrest, but is apparent throughout her life and relationship decisions. Jenny’s relentless inclination to move away from Forrest after brief visits with him is a defensive behavior that in actuality hinders her from facing her emotional and physical actions and interactions. Change A reformed Jenny emerges at the end of the film. The exhibition of maladaptive behavior, no longer exists. Jenny appears to be a responsible, working adult. While waitressing in a restaurant, she sees Forrest on television running across the country. Tishe, Finerman, & Zemeckis, 1994) Jenny then decides that she empathizes with Forrest. The actualization occurs that both of them were “running” (Tishe, Finerman, & Zemeckis, 1994), and Jenny is ready to see Forrest and face the relationship they have. Forrest was running from his sadness that he experienced when his mother passed away, which was a learned trait from Jenny. The Social Cognitive Theory states, “[a]s the level of self-efficacy increases, a person’s behavior tends to change toward positive behavior (Pervin, 2005). A direct relationship is reflected by an increasing self-efficacy and positive behavior within a person’s behavior.
While Forrest was running from his emotions, Jenny came to the realization that she wanted to be with Forrest and share their lives together with their son. Jenny has increased her ability to maintain positive thought patterns and behavior along with improved self-efficacy. The transformation of Jenny is instigated by motherhood and the need to create a better environment in which to rear a child. This behavior was instigated by surrounding herself with a more positive set of “models. ” Systematic desensitization of her phobia has occurred; thus, the conclusion of the film reflects that Forrest and Jenny marry and raise their son together as a married couple, and Jenny initiates the proposal.
This action is indicative of acceptance of her new found self-efficacy. Internal and External Factors Personality traits are results of both internal and external factors. The external factors that influence Jenny’s personality include abuse inflicted by her father, her grandmother, peers from school, the contacts created throughout her life, and the most important, being Forrest and his incredible loyalty. The internal factors, on the other hand, include her thoughts about, feelings toward, and perceptions of the people that she encountered and the history which was occurring all around her. Jenny’s personality is shaped by the external and internal factors. Conclusion
Overall, when seen from the perspective of the Social Learning Theory, Jenny evolves as a woman who was not only hindered by her environment, but also by her failure to behave in a manner that could have enabled her to overcome her negative environmental factors over the course of her life. From the social cognitive perspective, Jenny achieved success over her maladaptive behavior. This theory is not difficult to facilitate, as patient response is possible. Jenny required a positive set of “models” to gain control over her emotional state. Empathy and identification is crucial to the discernment of all internal and external situations. A positive model, which can identify with a person’s difficulties and suggest or display an ability to make rational decisions, is a major factor in all-human life, not just in Jenny’s case. Reference List Albert Bandura biographical sketch. (n. d. Retrieved March 9, 2011 from Emory University, Division of Educational Studies Website: http://www. des. emory. edu/mfp/bandurabio. html Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American Psychologist, 37, 122–147. Boeree, G. C. (2006). Albert Bandura. Retrieved March 12, 2011 from http://webspace. ship. edu/cgboer/bandura. html Cramer, P. (2000). Defense mechanisms in psychology today. American Psychologist, 55(6), 637–646 Elliott, T. , Smith, R. D. , & Wildman II, R. (1972). Suicide and systematic desensitization: A case study. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 28(3), 420-423. Retrieved from http://web. ebscohost. com. library. capella. edu
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