Remember the Truman Show Disorder? It's the delusion in which someone is convinced they are starring in their own reality TV show. When the Montreal psychiatrists Joel and Ian Gold first named the delusion back in 2008, I posted that "by the way some people act on Flickr and YouTube, I'd say that this disorder, with varying severity, may be more common than we realize." Of course, that was before the birth of Twitter's own unique brand of annoying narcissism. Anyway, the Gold brothers have just published a scientific paper about the delusion in the new issue of the journal Cognitive Neuropsychiatry. From MSNBC:
They suggest that “reality television resonates with a common anxiety about one’s position in the social hierarchy…. Someone who is particularly anxious about their social status, therefore, might experience reality television as presenting a significant social threat, or a tantalizing possibility of success, or both. In the life of such a person, reality television might act as a significant stress, the effects of which might include a persecutory or grandiose delusion of the Truman Show type.”
It’s not that watching lots of reality TV causes a mental illness (believe it or not). Rather, an existing or nascent illness, like schizophrenia, interacts with the cultural pervasiveness of reality TV to give form to the delusion. It’s a little like those unstable people who go to Jerusalem and experience “Jerusalem Syndrome,” the belief that they’re characters from the Bible.
The Golds wrote the paper because they think the environmental associations with psychosis don’t get enough attention. “We think in North America that it’s overlooked,” he said in an interview.
“We are interested in the way society as a whole has changed,” he said, “With the advent of reality TV and closed circuit TVs in cities such as London where people are truly observed, and the Internet with YouTube, what impact might that have on people otherwise predisposed to grandiosity and paranoia?”
"The “Truman Show” delusion: Psychosis in the global village" (Cognitive Neuropsychiatry)
David Pescovitz is Boing Boing's co-editor/managing partner. He's also a research director at Institute for the Future. On Instagram, he's @pesco.