How to Win an Oscar, According to Psychologists

Fagjun | Published 2017-04-02 05:51

We are more likely to recognize excellence in people we can more easily relate to.
[Photo by Ezra Jeffrey]

The best way to win an Oscar, according to psychologists, is to be part of the same social group as the judges.

Basically, be an American in a film portraying American culture.

Of course, to say that that's all it takes would be a gross injustice to truly great artists. Oscar winners are talented, hard-working, determined, and devoted to their craft. However, all these qualities are not enough to actually win an Oscar. There are many artists in the world who possess all these qualities and more, but they're not all Oscar winners.

The way to win an Oscar, therefore, lies in how a performance gets to be recognized for its brilliance.

The Secret Way to Win an Oscar

Research has found that group membership is important in recognizing the quality of a creative work. Pretend that you're a member of the group that votes on who gets to win an Oscar for certain categories. Each nominee, of course, is a strong contender. However, if you share a social identity with one of the nominees, you're more likely to recognize the brilliance of that nominee's performance.

We'd all like to think that an objective assessment of each performance determines Oscar winners. However, that's not really the case. A “one of us” mentality influences the way people recognize the work of their peers.

Researchers ran a large-scale analysis of the selection of Oscar winners for best actor and actress. The researchers also analyzed the selection of BAFTA winners in the UK. Their analysis showed that American actors won over 69% all relevant awards in the Oscars and 52% in the BAFTAs. British actors, meanwhile, won 34% of all relevant BAFTA awards and 18% of Oscar awards.

"There is a widespread belief that our perception of makes a creation original and outstanding is given by its objective qualities, but in fact it is heavily influenced by the social groups we are members of, and which provide the basis for making sense of the world," says Dr. Niklas Steffens, one of the researchers.

Nationality alone is not enough of a determinant, apparently. The subject matter of an actor's performance also counts. The researchers found that American actors accounted for 88% of award winners who portrayed a role in a film about American culture.

Can Judging an Artistic Performance be Objective?

Talent and hard work make winners. However, sharing a social identity with the judges for the awards is also a huge plus. This may not be a conscious choice and selection method, of course. The judges may not be willfully biased towards nominees they share a social identity with. It's just that we're more likely to recognize excellence when we can personally relate to the person exhibiting it.

People of other nationalities do at times win an Oscar for an excellent performance. However, the records of the Academy itself show that judges heavily favor American actors and American stories. What these findings show is that a completely objective evaluation of an artistic performance may not be possible. Judges are prone to favor actors and stories that they can more easily relate to.

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