Megamind: Was John Watson right?

Posted: January 5, 2012 by John C. Kwasny, Ph.D. in Comedy, Drama, Family
Tags: , , , ,

Roger Ebert called the animated movie Megamind…”amusing family entertainment.”  That is very true.  Even though it reminds me of a few other, more entertaining, forerunners (such as The Incredibles and Despicable Me), Megamind is very enjoyable for the whole family, especially with the wit of Will Ferrell (the voice of the evil genius, Megamind).  It is well worth the view.

But, it may surprise you to learn that this entertaining animated movie also addresses a long-debated issue in developmental psychology: whether it is our “nature” (genes) or our “nurture” (how we were raised) that affects our destinies more.  Yes, all of you fellow psych majors out there, this is the classic struggle of “nature vs. nurture,” embodied in the work of John Watson, the father of Behavioristic psychology, among others.

All the way back in 1930, Dr. John Watson wrote these infamous (and very scary) words: “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select–doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.”  Wow!  Watson believed that he could perfectly train a child to be exactly what he wanted him/her to be.  In other words, nurture always trumps nature.   (Just in case you’re wondering, I don’t think anyone took Watson up on his offer!)

So, the question is, was John Watson right?  Are we more a product of our early child-rearing than of our genes?  Megamind gives us its answer.  The movie begins with two “other worldly” babies being “delivered” to earth by tiny spacecrafts.  By pure chance, one baby ends up being raised by a loving, well-educated, upper-class family.  The other crash-lands in a prison, and is brought up by a band of the criminally insane.  Baby #1 grows up to become Metro Man, hero and protector of Metro City.  Baby #2 grows up to be Megamind, Metro Man’s arch villian and destroyer of Metro City.  If the movie ended about a third of the way through, it would suggest that John Watson was correct!  Adults are virtually always a direct result of their early child-rearing.

Then comes the first twist (spoiler alert!).  Megamind kills off Metro Man.  But, we find out later that Metro Man fakes his death in order to pursue a much higher calling than superhero–rock star!  Lacking a “good guy” as a rival, Megamind “gives birth” (not literally) to Titan, fathering and mentoring him to be a superhero.  He gives Titan amazing powers and teaches him to be the new protagonist of our story.  But…then comes another twist!  Titan rejects his training and chooses to become a villian instead (it’s just much more fun, he thinks).  This decision forces Megamind to veer dramatically from his career path, and become (you guessed it) a HERO instead of a villian.  Megamind, the one-time bad guy, defeats the even badder bad guy and thus becomes a good guy.  So, it can be said that the movie ultimately teaches that John Watson was wrong!  We are not just products of our early child-rearing.

From a Biblical anthropology (the study of human beings), Watson was also wrong.  He was wrong mainly because the options of most developmental psychologists are too limiting.  Man is not a product of EITHER genes OR his child-rearing.  He is a product of BOTH.  And, he is also a product of his later experiencs in life.  And, he is a product of indwelling sin.  And, he is a product of God’s common grace.  And, as a Christian, he is a product of saving grace!  According to God’s Word, a person’s life, calling, and personality is a brilliant and complex mix of the creative sovereign work of God.

To be sure, there is no doubt that our early child-rearing impacts who we turn out to be.  But, thank the LORD that’s not the end of the story for us, just as it wasn’t for Megamind!

  1. Henderson says:

    hi, I’ve just seen this movie.
    great discussion

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