Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book Review: The Psychology of Twilight, edited by E. David Klonsky, PhD, and Alexis Black

The Psychology of Twilight
Edited by E. David Klonsky, PhD, and Alexis Black, with various contributors
Trade Paperback, 256 pages
Smart Pop (An imprint of BenBella Books, Inc.)
October 4, 2011
Cultural Studies, Nonfiction, Psychology, The Twilight Saga
Source: Purchased from Amazon

Book SummaryYou’ve read the books. You’ve seen the films. Now get inside the heads of your favorite Twilight characters (just like Edward can!) in The Psychology of Twilight.

Explore the minds and motives of Bella, Edward, Jacob, and more with a deeper look at the series that’s captured the hearts—and psyches—of millions. Find out:

• How Edward and Jacob match up in an evolutionary psychology smackdown for Bella’s—and our—affection
• Whether Bella’s motorcycle-riding and cliff diving in New Moon are suicidal—or her salvation
• Why vampires and werewolves aren’t so different after all (at least psychologically)
• The emotional appeal of love stories like Bella and Edward’s
• Why being a part of Twilight fandom is good for your psychological health

Snuggle up on the closest chaise, and get ready to revisit the Twilight Saga—with some professional help.


Contrary to what people who are not fans of The Twilight Saga might think, the story of Bella Swan, Edward Cullen, and Jacob Black has a lot more psychological depth than is evident at first glance. The fascinating collection of essays in this book, written by several professionals in the field of psychology (and one in the field of anthropology) -- all of them with impressive academic credentials -- attests to that fact.

Since there are a total of 13 essays in this book, I will concentrate on my favorite ones. However, I will briefly touch on the others, as well.

The first essay, written by David Frederick and several others, deals with the psychobiology of love and attraction. It covers such topics as evolution and love; the attraction due to "the smell of symmetry", which is something that has been studied in humans and animals, is emphasized. Mr. Frederick is assistant professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

The next essay is all about Jacob Black, the werewolf who vies for Bella's love with Edward, the vampire. In this essay, the author deals with evolutionary psychology and mate selection, outlining the differences between Jacob and Edward, pointing out that Jacob typifies masculinity much more than Edward does, although she does not discount Edward's own charms. Erica Berg, PSYD, is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Chicago and Evanston, Illinois.

The next essay focuses on Edward and the points in his favor, such as his height, toned physique, charm, and low-pitched, masculine voice. The author of this essay adds that most women tend to go for men who are neither too brawny, nor too effeminate-looking, but are somewhere in the middle, like Edward. Her name is Susan Carnell, PhD, and she is a research scientist at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center, at Columbia University.

The fourth essay is one of my favorites, as it deals with prejudice. One of the elements about the Twilight books is the initial enmity that exists between the vampires and the werewolves, who are members of the Quileute Tribe of Native Americans. In the first book of the Saga, Twilight, there is a treaty between them, but it looks as if it might be violated at any moment, and war will erupt between the enemies. However, through a series of very creatively-designed events, Stephenie Meyer finally resolves this issue in the last book, Breaking Dawn.

The author of this essay is Melissa Burkley, PhD, an assistant professor of social psychology at Oklahoma State University. In her essay, she first begins with an overview of the nature of prejudice, which has emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. She then analyzes these in a more detailed manner, emphasizing such things as automatic associations and their relationship to prejudice, how prejudice can result from competition for scarce resources, how it can come about from minimal categorizations, and how it can be resolved through shared goals.

The fifth essay is another favorite. It deals with Attachment Theory as it applies to the three main characters of The Twilight Saga. This theory "...suggests that the way parents treat their children at a young age can affect how those children relate to people for the rest of their lives." (pg. 76) This, of course, includes romantic relationships, as well.

There are three types of attachment: secure, anxious, and avoidant. The authors of this essay then analyze the types of attachment Edward, Bella, and Jacob have with their respective families, and how these different types affect their relationship with each other. Interestingly, Edward and Jacob do display avoidant behavior toward Bella, although both boys come from families in  which they felt secure, and free to be themselves. However, their behavior toward Bella  frequently hinges on concerns for her safety, which then leads them to appear to abandon her at times. 

As for Bella, she, too, displays different styles of attachment, depending on how each of her suitors treats her. This is in spite of the fact that she also experienced secure attachment as she was growing up.

The authors of this fascinating essay are Amanda M. Vicary, PhD, who specializes in social personality psychology, and currently teaches at Illinois Wesleyan University, and Jennifer L. Rosner, PhD, who received her doctorate in social psychology, and is currently a project manager for a market research firm, in Chicago.

Another of my favorite essays is the sixth one, titled "The Gestalt of Twilight". It was written by Mikhael Lubyanski, PhD, who is a member of the teaching faculty in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. 

Lubyanski discusses how The Twilight Saga exemplifies the use of Gestalt psychology in its depiction of dichotomous choices, many of which are eventually shown to be false dichotomies in later chapters. He also mentions the following: "Gestalt theory is closely related to field theory, which is the idea that organisms (e.g. humans, vampires, etc.) can only be perceived in the context of their environment." (pg. 96) He then goes on to write that field theory states that only a person's current field (environment) influences that person's behavior and life experiences.  Although this sounds rather paradoxical, field theorists hold that it's a person's current thinking about their own past, and not that past itself, that can have an influence in their present lives.

The next essay compares human eating habits with those of the Cullens, as well as how hard it is for both species to change these habits. The author is Robin S. Rosenberg, PhD, who is a clinical psychologist. Among other things, she is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Clinical Psychology.

Other essays deal with such topics as the Cullen family's self-regulation, which helps Edward to control his thirst for Bella's blood, whether Bella's reckless behavior in New Moon is actually an emotional survival tactic in disguise, and a comparison of Edward and Bella's family structures.

The authors are: Jeremy Clyman, MA, who, at the time this book was published, was pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology at Yeshiva University in New York City, Catherine R. Glenn, MA, also pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology at the time, at Stony Brook University, in Stony Brook, New York, and Lisa M. Dinella, PhD, who is an assistant professor of psychology at Monmouth University, New Jersey. She specializes in family science and child development.

Two other essays are also especially fascinating to me; the first deals with the connection between Twilight and transcendence, while the second focuses on the emotional pleasures to be derived from reading the series. 

In "Transcendence and Twilight", the author discusses the relationship between death anxiety, love, and the search for immortality. The following is a very interesting quote: "What is brilliant about Twilight and many religions is that we are given an 'out' in regards to the problem of death. In both religion and The Twilight Saga, we are given the hope that we can, in fact, live forever. Becoming a vampire or being able to be part of Christ himself (as in Christianity) is what can literally preserve us." (pg. 209)

The author of this essay is Tamara McClintock Greenberg, PSYD, MS, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.

The second essay, titled "The Emotional Pleasures of Reading Twilight", discusses the appeal of passionate romantic love because of the strong emotions associated with it. It's specifically the feeling of longing for the beloved that entices readers, pulling them into the story. However, this essay goes beyond romantic feelings to a discussion of feelings in general, as experienced by the reader of a particular story. The author then moves on to a discussion of how reading fiction is very similar to pretend play, adding that, in all societies, myths and stories are used to generate strong feelings that are related to each society's ideas and values. Thus, the author states the following about our own values: "We live in a society in which our romantic dreams of fulfillment are important." (pg. 231) This is very clearly seen in the four books of The Twilight Saga.

This essay was written by Peter G. Stromberg, professor of Anthropology at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

As is very obvious from all of the above, The Twilight Saga is a treasure trove of fascinating psychological insights that can be applied to real life. Far from being merely an escapist fantasy, it is also much more. But then, aren't our most enduring and entertaining stories and myths precisely that -- fantastical escapes from reality that carry deep, hidden meanings? From Greek mythology to the Arthurian tales, to the medieval romances of the troubadours, on into the great classics of literature and our current popular genres, it's the psychological and even spiritual depths to be found in fiction that hold the power to immerse readers (and, in ancient times, listeners) in the events portrayed, weaving a magical spell. 

This book is not only fascinating because of all the psychological data it presents, but also because of how it approaches Twilight from different perspectives and angles, and yet, all of them pertain to psychology. I found it to be totally compelling, not only as a result of this approach, but also due to the fact that each of the authors involved, all highly-respected professionals, are also Twilight fans, and unashamedly so.

For those who enjoy poking fun at "those ridiculous, silly teen books", I would strongly recommend picking up The Psychology of Twilight. I guarantee that they won't think of the books in the same way, once they have read this collection of essays. Best of all, the authors present the wealth of material in a very engaging style that is not only easy to read, but maintains the reader's interest throughout.    


About the Editors
 (from the book's back page)

E. David Klonsky, PhD is assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Klonsky received his BA in Psychology and English Literature from Washington University in St. Louis, and his MA and PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Virginia. For his scientific and professional contributions, he has received awards from the American Psychological Foundation, the Society of Clinical Psychology (Division 12, American Psychological Association), and the Association for Psychological Science.

Alexis Black received her BA in Anthropology and Slavic Studies, and her MA in Slavic Languages and Literature, from the University of Virginia. She is currently (at the time of publication) working on her PhD in Linguistics at the University of British Columbia. She was awarded a Critical Language Scholarship by the U.S. State Department for her research on Russian language and culture, and has published on phonetic imitation and the First Nations language Kwak'wala.


  1. Well.. while I'm visiting your blog for my book tour, you've got me reading all your reviews and immediately buying this book! Sigh. Thank you for this review. Sold.

    1. Hi, Andrea!

      It's so NICE to have a fellow Twilight fan visit my blog and comment on this review!!! No else seems to be interested in it.....lol.

      There are people who hear or see the word "Twilight", and immediately sneer, or make some snide remark. This is surprising, since all the books have sold in excess of 100 million copies, WORLDWIDE! So we who love and appreciate the series have to stick together!!

      I'm so glad you love the book because of my review! I'm very honored! It really IS a fascinating book. All of the authors are professionals in the field of psychology, except for one who is an anthropologist. This is a SERIOUS book, which Twilight haters might not believe, but it's indeed so! And ALL of these SERIOUS professionals are also Twilight fans!! YAY!!

      You're very welcome for the review! Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment!! : )


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