Johnny Depp, Violence & Bias Confirmation

Johnny Depp, Violence & Bias Confirmation - Photo from "Alice Through The Looking Glass"

Johnny Depp, Violence & Bias Confirmation – Photo from “Alice Through The Looking Glass”

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to discuss how the accusations of domestic violence against Johnny Depp relate to bias confirmation.

First a quick update:

“Prejudice & Racism Have No Color Or Political Lines”
Justin Bieber, Mark Cuban, Cliven Bundy, Donald Sterling and V.Stiviano. What do they all have in common? Read my insights here 

“The Link Between Power, Sex & Cheating”
Why do so many powerful men cheat? How does power corrupt? Watch the video!

Now, let’s talk about how the accusations of domestic violence against Johnny Depp relate to bias confirmation.

The saga of the domestic violence accusations against Johnny Depp by wife Amber Heard reveals just how bias we all are and how our bias affects the way we interpret reality and even deny the facts before our very eyes. In psychology, this is referred to as bias confirmation which simply infers ignoring some of the facts and looking for confirmation of our preconceived ideas.

Actress Amber Heard was married to Johnny Depp for 15 months before filing for divorce. She then filed, and was granted by a judge, a temporary restraining order against Depp alleging repeated physical and verbal abuse.

Heard claims that Depp has been physically and psychologically abusive to her for years, and she claims that he hit her with a cell phone and had not reported prior abuse to protect him and his career.

Amber Heard is 23 years younger than Johnny Depp.

Amber Heard is viewed as a gold digger, someone who is making up these stories as a way to get a better divorce settlement including monthly payments of around $50,000.00

Depp is viewed as a loveable, affable, charming all-round good guy who entertains us and makes us laugh with his on-screen characters such as the endearing, Captain Jack Sparrow. We have known, loved and admired Depp for decades. We also conduct parasocial relationships with celebrities such as Depp – we falsely believe we actually know him, who he is and how he thinks and behaves. We also feel a sense of ownership and identify with the celebrity, particularly if he/she is our idol and we associate good memories & emotions with them. Remember, many people did the same thing with Bill Cosby believing that every woman who accused him was just a lying gold digger until so many women came out with accusations and stories that it was impossible to discount every single claim as a lie and now Cosby stands trial for sexual assault criminal charges.

And here is where the bias confirmation occurs:
If you believe that women are out to get a man’s money or that young women only marry older men for money, then you will believe that Heard is lying; if you believe that Depp is a sweet, funny and charming guy who would never hit or abuse a woman, then again, you will believe that Heard is lying; if you have experienced abuse or you believe that all men are pigs and can be abusive then then you will believe that Depp is guilty.

This story of allegations of abuse against someone we like or idolize is similar to the stories of Bill Cosby and Mel Gibson. It also challenges our beliefs and creates cognitive dissonance to admit that our hero or movie idol (Gibson, Cosby or Depp) might be abusive or not the person we thought they are.

Interestingly, Mel Gibson’s wife of 28 years came out in support of Mel Gibson when he was accused by Oksana Grigorieva of physically abusing her. Robyn wrote to a court and to the L.A. County Sherriff’s office:

“Mel never engaged in any physical abuse of any kind toward me before, during or after our marriage.”

Robyn also says there was never any domestic violence perpetrated by Mel against any of their children.

However, later Mel Gibson admitted he hit Oksana and said she deserved it.

Interestingly, Vanessa Paradis, former partner and mother of Depp’s children wrote:

“In all the years I have known Johnny, he has never been physically abusive with me and this looks nothing like the man I lived with for 14 wonderful years.”

Both Robyn and Vanessa carefully worded their support saying “he has never been physically abusive with me”; they didn’t mention verbal or psychological abuse. It has also just been revealed that the surgery Depp had to have on his hand in 2015 was the result of him punching a wall during an argument with Heard. (Punching walls and smashing objects is one of the traits of an abuser.)

Depp has also admitted having challenges with alcohol while denying he’s an alcoholic:

“No, it’s more my medication, my self-medication over the years to calm the circus. Once the circus kicks in, the festivities in the brain, it can be ruthless.”

In both cases, Depp and Gibson left the mother of their children to be with a much younger woman – 23 and 24 years younger respectively. Both men have had challenges with alcohol; Gibson much more serious challenges than Depp.

Bias confirmation will lead us to ignore all of the facts and reach our own conclusions or search for or interpret information in a way that confirms our preconceptions and pre-existing beliefs; I am not making any claims or assertions as to the guilt or innocence of either party here – Depp or Heard; I do not know all the facts.

What can be gleaned from the Depp story is that we all have biases and those biases affect the way we look at the world and the way we experience it. For example, most people will attack the woman who marries a rich man 23 years older than her labeling her a gold digger, and yet the rich older man is lauded for being able to land a beautiful younger woman. In reality, both are potentially digging for gold – the woman for gold in the form of money & security, and the man for gold in the form of beauty, youth & sex. It’s a common occurrence in Hollywood and in Miami – the city of beauty, sex and partying: the rich man offers the young siren a life of glamour in exchange for youth, beauty and regular & exciting sex! And in some cases, the rich older man foolishly believes he will have greater power and control over the younger woman than he would over a successful woman his own age. And for a while he does, until she gets older, wiser or stronger – even if that strength comes from knowing she can have his money with a divorce!

Of course, few people will even remotely consider the possibility that there might have been genuine love between Depp and Heard; most people will respond cynically and argue that the rich man (Depp) was fooled by the temptation of the younger woman (Heard) and that therefore it is entirely her fault for being so manipulative. Doesn’t that approach suddenly make the rich, successful, power man a weak, stupid victim?

Many people also have a bias confirmation tied to the resentment of a woman who gets money from a man, particularly if she did not directly earn it i.e. the couple divorced and the rich older man gave his much younger ex-wife a lot of money in a settlement.

“A 2004 study by Emory University revealed that both Democrats and Republicans when faced with information which, was contrary to their point of view and threatening to their political candidate, would simply ignore that information even though it could not be rationally discounted.”

Finally, Richard Gere, 66 has a new girlfriend half his age, 34 years younger than him – Alejandra Silva, 32. They were seen being affectionate to each other in Europe…who is using who? You decide…and when they split who will be vilified?

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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