Six Degrees of Separation isn't the only film to tango with psychological science. (See How Happiness is Contagious.) In the 1944 classic Gaslight, Charles Boyer does everything he can to convince his wife, Ingrid Bergman, that she's insane—a form of abuse psychologists have come to call gaslighting.
More recently, after the 1998 release of The Truman Show (in which Jim Carrey plays a man who is unaware that his whole life is being filmed for TV), Joel Gold, MD, an attending psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital in New York, began treating five men "who all had a very specific kind of delusion where they felt that they were the subject of a reality show much like in the movie." When Gold began to talk about his cases in professional circles, he heard of several others, and last year doctors writing in The British Journal of Psychiatry dubbed the phenomenon the Truman syndrome.
In the movie Pay It Forward, the plot is based on doing three good deeds for strangers, asking only that they do the same for three others in return. "Research absolutely supports this idea," says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of The How of Happiness. "It's called the upward spiral effect."
The cross-pollination between cinema and brain science has even given rise to the publication Projections: The Journal for Movies and Mind. "We feel," says editor Ira Konigsberg, PhD, "that art offers us the opportunity to increase our understanding of the brain, and vice versa."