How Real Are Those 'Insurgent' Fear Landscapes? We Asked A Psychologist

Dr. Andrea Bonior breaks down those fear landscapes once and for all.

Minor spoilers for "The Divergent Series: Insurgent" lie ahead!

If you know anything about the world Veronica Roth created in her "Divergent" series, then you're already well aware of the fact that it's all about those fear landscapes.

Fear landscapes, which are serum-induced simulations that create a dream-like sequence where you confront your fears, can help you pass Dauntless initiation, place into a faction, and even prove that you're a true Divergent.

But according to licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior, those fears that Tris (Shailene Woodley) are punching, kicking and shooting to oblivion in "Insurgent" will not be defeated by this dream-state violence.

"It’s not going to be long-lasting, that relief, that triumph," Dr. Bonior told MTV News over the phone. "If you’re having some kind of dream, if it’s that disturbing, it might be trying to tell you something. Sometimes our dreams are just silly quirks of the brain taking out the trash at night. But especially when something is recurring, or is an existing anxiety-provoking dream, then it’s something to pay attention to."


Basically, Tris' recurring nightmares of her mother's (Ashley Judd) death, Will's (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) death, and confrontations with Jeanine (Kate Winslet) won't go away via confronting them in fear landscapes -- in fact, they could actually make things worse.

"Fear in dreams can become cyclical," Dr. Bonior continued. "We wake up and we remember, and they actually upset us. The more upsetting those dreams are, the more stressed we are in real life... for those folks that have night terrors or nightmares, or even just dreams that are somewhat disturbing, that can really be anxiety-provoking for them in their real life."

Which, believe it or not, wouldn't always be a bad thing for Tris.

"We know that some anxiety is normal; we have a fight or flight response that’s bred into us since evolution," Dr. Bonior explained. "Some anxiety helps our body perform -- it’s what keeps us on our toes, it’s what helps us pay attention to threats. If we weren’t at all anxious, we wouldn’t be worried about the fact that there’s a wild dog coming right at us. Our heart wouldn’t beat faster, allowing us to run away more quickly."


In other words, the terrors that Tris confronts in her fear landscapes can keep her on her toes when the Erudite come a'knocking -- but when it comes to her physical health and even her relationship with Four (Theo James), the fear landscapes have got to go.

"To have severe anxiety, walking around with it day in and day out, it affects virtually everything," Dr. Bonior continued. "It can affect your relationships, it can affect your ability to concentrate at your job, it can obviously affect your ability to fall asleep at night... and it can affect your body. You can be walking around with an increased risk of heart issues if you’re chronically stressed and chronically anxious, muscle tension is off the charts for people who are chronically anxious, and often times, we know that just having elevated levels of stress hormones, over time, is bad for the immune system."

So if Tris wants to really tackle her fears once and for all, Dr. Bonior says she should try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and relaxation techniques -- because sometimes, it's really about less Dauntless and more Amity.

"Things like progressive muscle relaxation, or certain types of breathing, certain types of visualization, can help calm your body," she said. "Because the truth is, when your body is calm, your mind is going to follow suit, too."

... And the mind, more than anything, is truly what Tris needs to stay sharp when she's fighting the war for control of Chicago.

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So there you have it -- those fear landscapes Jeanine and the Dauntless love so much are not the way to fight your fears, and could actually make them much, much worse.

But at least Dr. Bonior disproved one popular misconception that's repeated in "Insurgent" -- if you die in your dream and/or fear landscape, you will not pass on in real life.

"It’s really interesting how that myth got started," Dr. Bonior said with a laugh. "We don’t have any data to support that. You really couldn’t get any data... we do know that people die in their dreams and are alive in real life, but we don’t know if people who actually died in their sleep dreamed that they’re dying... Certainly, if you die in your dream, there is no reason to be alarmed. You will very well be waking up."

"The Divergent Series: Insurgent" hits theaters on March 20th.