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Oscar awards are driven by ‘one of us’ mentality – just like everything else

Posted March 31, 2017

Different people are dreaming about different trophies. While some wish to receive some kind of scientific award, others would like to get a trophy for their musical talent or even an Oscar. Now scientists from The University of Queensland revealed what it actually takes to receive the most prestigious cinema award in the world.

Objective judgement behind each of the Oscar statuette is limited by human psychology. Image credit: Ivan Bandura via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Of course there are no guaranteed recipes of success when it comes to Oscars. One has to work really hard and always strive to be the best in his field, whether it is being an actor or director, or composer and so on. However, scientists took a closer look at who is getting Oscars and found that there is actually a tendency. And it is not that people behind the Oscars are somehow trying to reward a particular group of people or a genre of movies. Instead there are psychological phenomenon that are influencing decisions. It is because all evaluations are subjective, especially when it comes to art.

Scientists say that decisions about who is getting the desired golden sculpture are based on group memberships. Or, in other words, ‘one of us’ mentality. Researchers took a look at a large body of data, analysing all nominations and winners for ‘best performance by an actor/actress in a leading role’ in the US-based Oscars and the British-based BAFTAs since 1968. Analysis showed that actors were more likely to win if he or she shared social group membership with the judges. That is why, according to scientists, American actors won 52 % of all BAFTAs but 69 % of all Oscars and British actors won 18 % of all Oscars but 34 % of all BAFTAs.

This means that there are no objective evaluation of the cinematic pieces and performances – no surprises here. Work of an actor will be perceived as better if a judge can relate to him. In the same way subject of the movie matters too. Most of the movies who were recognized in Oscars were showing life in US (88 %). While it is always interesting to see other cultures in the big screen, it is not easy to relate to such subjects and therefore judges often lean towards movies showing their country. Dr Nik Steffens, author of the study, said: “The culture that a movie represents makes a difference to the likelihood of it winning awards, and we are more likely to recognise actors from our in-group when their performance is in movies that portray ‘our’ in-group culture”.

This does not come as a surprise, really. Everyone is subjective and it is impossible to be completely impartial. The question is, however, whether Oscars and other awards are overrated – it is just one organization evaluating work of other. Subjectively.


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