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Psychology of Marvel's Inhumans

"Who we are is not who we are born. We transform."

On earth those discovered to be part Inhuman are hunted down by the humans. Scouts seek out these Inhuman descendants to come together in a place called Attilan, earth’s moon and the Inhuman kingdom.

But even Attilan has its prejudices and discrimination. The king’s brother Maximus doesn’t have any powers and is looked down on for it.

"You make me sick. You’re just a human."

If you’ve ever been the recipient of prejudice and discrimination, or if you’ve just been tuned into American culture for the past few centuries, you may have wondered what creates such hostile feelings between people. Psychologists and sociologists have some theories.

Social Identity Theory supposes that people join a group and highlight differences between their group and other groups, particularly to stress positive characteristics of their group and negatives of other groups.

With Social Dominance Theory, society is a power structure, with some groups having more power or more resources than other groups. Rather than driven by a need to identify with a group that one values, members join their group in order to compete in a constant struggle for power.

Realistic Conflict Theory assumes that separate groups will compete for resources, but only in environments in which resources are scare, or where power is withheld for the few. When resources are limited and survival become competitive, individuals create groups in order to collaborate resources; eventually hostility grows between groups, and large groups in the form of established nations engage in conflict.

Attilan is dived into a chaste system. Those with powers are given special duties, and those with no powers work in the mines. Since they live on a barren rock, people in command justify the chaste system due to limited resources, sounding a lot like some combination of both social dominance and realistic conflict theories.

To regain resources for the Inhuman race, Maximus wants to take over earth before the humans take over them. Perhaps accustomed to the standard of “take resources for our group and screw the other groups,” or perhaps just familiar with alien movies, Maximus says, "because they are humans, their first course of action will be to destroy us.” He rallies others to usurp the throne by promising equality for all Inhumans, not just those with powers.


Terrigenesis is the ceremonial process of unlocking genes in Inhumans that give them their powers. On Attilan, adolescents are put into a chamber, and special crystals create an encompassing mist, turning on the genes: “You may step out, and fully reveal yourselves.” On earth, some people are exposed to a teratogen mist, revealing them to be Inhumans.

For years the field of psychology debated whether a person’s development is influenced by their biology or environmental influence. Epigenetics, however, is the relatively new study of how genes can be “turned on” or “turned off” depending on someone’s environment. So instead of “nature versus nurture,” the more accurate answer to the debate is “nature and nurture.”

For instance, if I have the gene for alcoholism, then I could potentially develop an addiction to alcohol. However, if I never take a drink, then that gene won’t “turn on.” Someone who doesn’t have the gene for alcoholism, however, doesn’t have that possibility written into their code. So if they do drink, that environment doesn’t have the gene to turn on in the first place.

Like with the Inhumans, a person’s genetic coding is like a map of possibilities; but a person’s environment (or teratogen mist) influences where on that map that person falls.

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