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Psychological thriller is a specific sub-genre of the broad ranged thriller with heavy focus on the unstable emotional states of characters, in combination with mystery and thriller. However, it often incorporates elements from the mystery and drama genre, along with the typical traits of the thriller genre. In addition to drama and mystery, many psychological thrillers contain elements of, and often overlap with, the horror genre, particularly psychological horror.
- Psychological – Elements that are related to the mind or processes of the mind; they are mental rather than physical in nature. Sometimes the suspense comes from within one solitary character where characters must resolve conflicts with their own minds. Usually, this conflict is an effort to understand something that has happened to them. These conflicts are made more vivid with physical expressions of the conflict in the means of either physical manifestations, or physical torsions of the characters at play.
- Thriller – Generally, thrillers focus on plot over character, and thus emphasize intense, physical action over the character's psyche. Psychological thrillers tend to reverse this formula to a certain degree, emphasizing the characters just as much as, if not more so than, the plot.
- Psychological thriller – Characters are no longer reliant on physical strength to overcome their brutish enemies (which is often the case in typical action-thrillers), but rather are reliant on their mental resources, whether it be by battling wits with a formidable opponent or by battling for equilibrium in the character's own mind. The suspense created by psychological thrillers often comes from two or more characters preying upon one another's minds, either by playing deceptive games with the other or by merely trying to demolish the other's mental state.
Literary devices and techniques 
- Stream of consciousness – a literary technique which seeks to describe an individual's point of view by giving the written equivalent of the character's thought processes. In psychological thrillers, the narrative usually tries to manifest the character's psyche through word usage, descriptions, or visuals.
- First-person narrative – a literary technique in which the story is narrated by one or more of the characters, who explicitly refers to him or herself in the first person, that is, "I". This direct involvement that the characters have with the story in turn makes the reader more involved with the characters themselves, and thus able to understand the mechanics of the characters' minds. This technique is often paired with the concept of the unreliable narrator.
- Back-story – the history behind the situation extant at the start of the main story. This deepens the psychological aspect of the story since the reader is able to more fully understand the character; more specifically, what the character's motivations are and how his past has shaped his current cognitive perceptions.
Many psychological thrillers have emerged over the past years, all in various media (film, literature, radio, etc.). Despite these very different forms of representation, general trends have appeared throughout the narratives. Some of these consistent themes include:
These major subgenres help develop the plot of a psychological thriller film, shaping the characters' personalities. e.g. usually character will find the true identity/the devil side of himself/herself in psychological thriller, in which it is one of the archetypes—the loss of innocence.
Screenwriters and directors of the genre 
- Brad Anderson – Works effectively in the psychological horror genre. He is the director of The Machinist and Session 9.
- Dario Argento – Italian director considered the master of giallo. He often creates mysteries that are very psychological in nature, with the past of characters influencing their present actions, as in 4 mosche di velluto grigio, Tenebrae, Trauma and La sindrome di Stendhal.
- Darren Aronofsky – Director of harsh paranoid thrillers such as Pi, Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan.
- Park Chan-wook – Korean director who significantly explored the genre in his "vengeance trilogy" (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance).
- David Cronenberg – Canadian director who focuses on the psychological horrors of our minds. His storylines often make issues of the mind explicit, as in The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome, Dead Ringers and Spider.
- Brian De Palma – Infuses eroticism with the thriller genre. Often uses the motifs of doubling and splitting in the characters minds, as in Sisters, Obsession, Dressed to Kill, Body Double and Raising Cain.
- David Fincher – Dark and ominous thrillers that focus on the psychology of men, as in Se7en, The Game, Fight Club and Zodiac.
- Alfred Hitchcock – The master of suspense, Hitchcock often applied Freudian concepts to his thrillers, as in Rebecca, Spellbound, Vertigo, Psycho, Marnie and Rear Window.
- Richard Kelly – Director who examined many of the themes illustrated above in the film Donnie Darko.
- Stanley Kubrick - His films are characterized by a formal visual style and attention to detail – often combining elements of surrealism and expressionism that give the viewers a feeling of discomfort, such as in 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut and A Clockwork Orange.
- David Lynch – Surrealistic director whose mysteries are usually puzzles of the mind. Both the audience and the characters themselves must figure out what is real and what is not, especially in Inland Empire, Lost Highway, Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive.
- Christopher Nolan – British-American director whose narrative structures often reflect the mental construction of the characters, as in Following, Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, The Prestige and Inception.
- Roman Polanski – Polish director whose thrillers focus on the alienation and isolation of the characters, as in Repulsion and Le Locataire.
- Joseph Ruben - Directed classics like The Stepfather and The Good Son and the movies Sleeping with the Enemy and The Forgotten.
- Martin Scorsese – American director who directed Shutter Island, Taxi Driver, Cape Fear and The Departed, among others.
- M. Night Shyamalan – Indian-American director well known for making psychological thrillers which often have a twist ending in them. He successfully executed the psychological thrillers, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs.
- Satoshi Kon – Japanese anime director whose well known for making psychological anime thrillers, as in Perfect Blue, Paranoia Agent, Millennium Actress and Paprika
Video games 
Examples in film 
Examples in television 
Examples in literature 
- John Fowles - His novel, The Collector, is the sinister story of a sociopathic kidnapper, narrated by both the criminal and his victim.
- Émile Zola – His novel La Bete Humaine is a chilling psychological thriller that focuses on the dark recesses of human nature.
- Patricia Highsmith – Highsmith's novels usually focus on troubled young men who are either sociopathic or emotionally unstable; throughout each story the protagonist is somehow drawn into a murky murder case, and must contend with persistent policemen and suspicious friends. Her most famous character is the charming con man and serial murderer Tom Ripley who, over the course of five books, successfully kills nine people.
- Desmond Cory – Cory's popular novels have been made into successful films (The Mark of the Phoenix, Deadfall) and a television series (Circe Complex). Cory explored many different aspects of the psychological thriller, featuring a wide spectrum of characters that ranged from the jewel-thief to the terrorist.
- Rod Glenn – Glenn's novel, Sinema: The Northumberland Massacre explores the idea that a seemingly well-adjusted individual with an unremarkable upbringing can make a sane decision to commit murder. Sinema features the unusually likeable and charismatic character of Hannibal Whitman as the central anti-hero.
- Paul Parducci – His novel Wet Linda extensively explores the mental states of his characters especially the developing psychopathology of his protagonist.
- Jonathan Kellerman – Kellerman's Alex Delaware novels often deal with various matters of criminal psychology.
- Melanie Wells – Unlike her contemporaries, Wells has taken a different approach to the genre by adding supernatural elements. Her novels, such as When The Day of Evil Comes, The Soul Hunter and My Soul to Keep, feature the psychological mind games of Peter Terry - a demon who seeks to steal his victim's peace of mind and hope.
- Mary Higgins Clark – Clark's novels typically focus on a successful woman caught up in the diaboloical games of men, who are usually either psychotic or sexually perverse. The crimes in her stories often involve children in some way, and occasionally deal with child telepathy.
- Henry James – The Turn of the Screw and other horror stories he wrote.
- Nicci French – The pseudonym of husband-and-wife team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Their novels often revolve around a young female protagonist who is either targeted by or is suspected of being a psychopathic killer. The stories are quite unique in that they focus just as much, if not more so, on the victims of crime rather than the actual criminals.
- Stephen King – Although his books Carrie, Cycle of the Werewolf, Thinner and others are considered as horror novels, his book often focus on the protagonist(s) and antagonist(s), their origins, backgrounds for character and certain activities.
- Orson Scott Card – Ender's Game, though usually identified as a science fiction novel, gets more into the life of a child, rather than focusing upon the technology and means of the future.
- Pete Howells – Perspective Disentangled and others are considered to be at the literary fiction end of this market.
- Louise Welsh – Both her first The Cutting Room and latest book The Girl on the Stairs are noted psychological thrillers featuring characters struggling with their perceptions of circumstances around them.
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