Dances with Wolves Psychological Review

A drama film with historical background and aesthetically beautiful that is directed, produced and acted by Kevin Costner about the life of an American lieutenant named John J. Dunbar who encountered with the Native American tribe Sioux and found a life with the tribe. Throughout the film, there are many dynamic psychological concepts portrayed by Dunbar and the Sioux tribesmen. All will be further discussed as follow:-


1. Love of friendship


            Sternberg’s triangular theory of love stated that for any forms of love, it requires intimacy, passion and commitment. The friendship between Dunbar and Wind in His Hair, and Kicking Bird was formed through their friendly contact when the Sioux paid a visit to Dunbar and tried getting to know one another. Then after, Dunbar was easily accepted by them and eventually became one with the tribe. Reward theory of attraction states that one like those whose behaviour is rewarding to one or associates self with rewarding events.  The principles of Dunbar liking Kicking Bird and Wind in His Hair that form their friendship is based on the theory when Dunbar told the tribe about the presence of the herd of buffalos and when the news about the Pawnees about to attack the Sioux tribe, Dunbar lent them firearms for protection.  The rewards (providing the Sioux with buffalo meat and fur, and firearms) Dunbar gave to the tribe showed that he is “attractive’ because he helped them by rewarding them and that made the tribesmen to like him. This clearly shows that the reward from Dunbar to Sioux tribe was significant to create liking and made their friendship grow based on the reward attraction theory.


2. Romantic love


            Not just friendship was formed but Dunbar was able to find love with Stand with a Fist. Based on Sternberg’s love theory, a few components such as intimacy, passion and commitment play huge roles in Dunbar’s romance with Stand with a Fist. Intimacy is the closeness between individuals which is portrayed by Dunbar’s decision to stay in the tribe and not going back to the fort for companionship and belongingness. This resulted in closeness for Dunbar to get to know Stand with a Fist and ignite romantic relationship with her. Additionally, Stand with a Fist is the interpreter between Dunbar and the tribesmen so that also increased their closeness. With closeness, they got to know one another much better and lead them to be passionate to each other. Eventually, they committed to each other through marriage resulting into consummate love.   


3. Teamwork based on social exchange and reciprocity norm theory


            Teamwork between the Sioux and Dunbar fighting against the Pawnees when their tribe was attacked and as well as during the buffalo hunting are portrayed well and be explained by the social exchange theory. It states that helping one another working in teams is motivated by a desire to maximize one’s rewards and minimise one’s costs. The reward of chasing the Pawnees away and minimising death of the Sioux tribe people formed teamwork between the tribe and Dunbar. Also, the reward of getting food and clothe supplies off the buffaloes shows the theory implemented.

            Besides that, reciprocity norm describes that one will help others in return who have helped them. In the film, it is portrayed when the Sioux warriors fought to free Dunbar from being a prisoner of the American soldiers who treated him as a traitor for being one of the American Indians. The Sioux tribesmen reciprocated to save Dunbar as he has helped them during the fight against the Pawnees attack and the time when they hunted for buffaloes.


4. Racial Prejudice


            Prejudice comes in many forms, the “own group” against the “other group” ranging from aspects of gender, religion, race, and many more. It is defined as a preconceived negative judgment of a particular racial group and its members In the film, the Caucasian Americans think they are the supreme race and higher class group than the Native Americans therefore they are at constant war with them and subjugated the race eventually. Another example (image above) is when the Caucasian American soldiers opened fire at Dunbar from afar thinking that he was a Native American because of his Sioux dressing, them being all White supremacists they shot and stopped Dunbar without questioning him of his identity beforehand. This kind of preconceived negative judgment is what makes the injustice and violence happened around the world that focuses on the race factor only and not think about that we are of the same human race.  


5. Racial Prejudice reduced with Contact Hypothesis      


            As mentioned before on the racial prejudice between the White supremacist against the Native American Indians, an example of racial prejudice is seen reduced between Dunbar and the Natives as the film progressed. Before Dunbar met the Natives, he sees them as enemies, as pests of the Western frontiers but as he got into contact with them, he warmed up to them and learned about their culture and lifestyle. The contact hypothesis explains that under optimal conditions of equal status, shared goals, authority sanction, and the absence of competition, interaction between two differing race individuals or groups will reduce the racial prejudice toward one another.  As it can be seen upon Dunbar’s mere contact with the Natives, when he decided to pay them a visit but stumbled upon a wounded Indian woman who he saved and brought back to the tribe. Soon after, the Sioux tribe made interaction with Dunbar and then onward they became friends and family. Therefore, it reduced the racial prejudice that Dunbar had before toward the Native Americans. 

Overall,  the film is noteworthy for its remarkable story and view of the Western frontiers. The historical background of the story is another element that make it more touching and significant as it depicts the lives of the Native Americans (though not entirely accurate). It has sparked the curiosity in me to find out more about the Native Americans back in those days and of their lifestyle and culture. A few similar movie as Dances with Wolves that I would recommend with similar theme are as follow:-

Avatar –

The Postman –

The last of the Mohicans –



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