Once again we settle down in a drizzly July and August to be entertained by an endless stream of celebrities known and lesser known in Channel 5’s Celebrity Big Brother. There is something about the human psyche that motivates us to become armchair psychologists pronouncing judgment on the reality of the unrealities . It’s the escape valve which facilitates our emotional cartharsis allowing us to break free from the drudgery of daily life. We witness a world full of passionate embraces, cunning deception and characters teetering on the brink of radical change or chaos. There has been much criticism among the psychological fraternity about the ethics of psychologists being involved in making evaluations about group dynamics in reality television, and the fact that we legitimize the onscreen debauchery and misdemeanours in specific shows. That might well be, but not in all cases. Chartered psychologists like myself and others agree to abide by the British Psychological Society’s Code of Conduct. This means that we have a bounden moral duty to work with television producers pre show casting and make know to both crew and producers that they have a duty to the contestants to gain their informed consent. This means that the media psychologist ought to ensure that the contestants are not going to be deliberately manipulated by the show’s producers in order to increase viewer ratings, and more so that the shows conforms to Ofcom’s code of conduct . The psychologist has to also ensure that contestants in any reality tv show is protected from harm, mental physical or otherwise. Television exposure and future contracts are baffling to many television contestants and most are unaware of how they might cope with negative press reports.As regards reality TV It has been undeniably informative if we are fully objective, let’s look at a recent documentary on Military Wives and the incredible musical talent of Gareth Malone, the maestro of making anything possible in the world of music. His inner motives sense of humour and human compassion and empathy has touched the hearts of the nation. In many ways it facilitated the therapeutic recovery of severely injured soldier’s male and female giving the hope and raising their self esteem and self worth. But whether you enjoy it or not, reality TV has entered the collective mindset of the UK and it has the potential to affect us more than we might realize, psychologically.
In a recent glossy magazine article I read with interest some comments made by Stuart Murphy Creative Director of TwoFour Broadcast, who argues that viewers now are becoming much more demanding in what they expect to see on reality TV. He goes on the make the point that “Moments of shock, awe and devastation are packed into bite-size episodes of reality TV. But these dramatic scenes are often far from organic. ‘One of the things you learn in this industry is how to shock your audience,’ says Murphy. ‘If you genuinely shock someone, they will just look slightly traumatised. So producers gently prepare the characters for revelations so they respond in a TV-friendly way. Murphy admits that reality TV is cheaper to produce than soaps or dramas, but insists this is not the main reason for the glut of reality shows. ‘Reality shows can also help us manage our emotions. When we see real people behaving in unexpected, contradictory ways it can make us more comfortable with our own complicated natures.’ But does reality TV also make us more comfortable with losing our temper or ridiculing others? The term ‘humilitainment’ was coined by media psychologists to describe the tendency for viewers to be attracted to scenes of humiliation or mortification, for example bullying, nudity and drunken antics. According to psychology Professor Dr. Douglas Gentile, one worrying effect of reality TV is that it might make us more aggressive. Gentile released a study revealing that those who watch more indirect aggression on TV — such as gossiping, eye-rolling or making sarcastic comments — behave moreaggressively. The study also highlights that when aggression is perceived to be more realistic, it has a bigger influence on the viewer.