Truman Show delusion


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?”

"'Truman show' delusion: Believing your life is a reality TV show"

"The “Truman Show” delusion: Psychosis in the global village" (Cognitive Neuropsychiatry)


  1. I’m not that social, so I wouldn’t have a delusion about being in my own reality show. I’d prefer a delusion where one day someone will be teaching a graduate level course on my life and work. I just need to get a life and do some work to make sure it’s not a weekend seminar…

  2. I’ve noticed that as I get older and remember the various memes I’ve lived through, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and now that each era has a thread of what constitutes that era’s lunatic fringe. Take Ted Kazinski. He railed against the society we have today and struck out at the academics who were creating the basis for the technology he hated most. When you live in a shack in Montana you’re called criminally insane, when you live in Arlington VA in an overpriced Cape Cod split level and work on Crystal City or DC, it’s called strategic analysis. Take any other kook from the 80’s who complained about their phone being tapped, or their conversations being monitored, or their mail being read. These things have crossed over from the rantings of people who are clearly mad, to being instituted by our ruling class. How is it that the lunatic fringe in their wildly loose extrapolations of how technology can be used to harm the individual can come so close to what we, with time, wind up actually do to each other?

    I will no longer read a headline like the one for this story and say “Oh, it’s the crazies again.”. No, it’s a wake up call. No matter how crazy I think the idea is I now view the lunatic fringe as a vocal bell weather of what will come in approx 10 to 20 years from the establishment. Andy Worhol was right we’ll all be famous. Probably longer than 15 min.

    1. Ed Harris’ character inserted himself into Truman’s world only as a last resort, and then only in an attempt to calm things down.

  3. A friend of mine suffered a psychotic episode, which he described to me after treatment.

    “They (whoever they were) were out to get me and I was constantly being monitored.  As I lay in my bedroom, I was wondering how they could be looking at me at that moment.  Then I saw a tiny crack in the wall, and realized that’s where the micro-camera was hidden…”.

    I asked “What do you mean, out to get you?”  He answered “Assimilation, like Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.  Everyone I knew had been falling, one by one, including you, I was sure you had become one of them when you sent me that Gmail invitation”.

  4. It’s based on our human desire to impose narrative structure on our lives. Some people read literature. Other people imagine their lives as novels. Some even keep narrative journals or scrapbooks. Some people imagine their lives with a ongoing narrative, a sportscaster, or even a laugh track. The sardonic is not a new phenomenon.

    Of course, there are all sorts of nifty new ways to structure the narrative such as Facebook, Comic Life, Flickr, Twitter and LiveJournal.

    1.  No, no, no. I have it on great authority that those things are making us less social and more unhappy and we should go back to the way things were back in the non-existent “good ol’ days!”

  5. This is not a new disorder, it is Referential Delusion and it’s sufferers incorporate what’s around them into the delusion.

      1. Except the quote specifically does not mention Reference Delusions or Delusion Disorders which are already in the DSMV. Hence my comment.

  6. I know that I’m the subject of a Truman Show-style reality show. But I got my revenge on you guys, didn’t I? You couldn’t have written a more unlikeable or erratic protagonist if you tried. 

    Also, word to the wise: you need to cast better actresses as my love interests. So far there’s been, like, ZERO sexual chemistry between any of us.

  7. Thirty (forty?) years ago, this would have been called the Candid Camera Syndrome.

    edit: the delusion that all the weird (or even mundane) things happening around you and your reactions to them are being filmed.

  8. Must be the same field of study as those delusional types who believe there will be a rapture and they will be the chosen ones!

    1. ugh, I bet you’re right.  but is it delusional individuals expressing it through a religious idea, or does the idea fuel the delusion?

      anyway, before your comment, I was just thinking that this Truman Show delusion or just reference delusions generally are very sad.  that it happens to these poor individuals is sad enough, and that we as a society are giving these delusional people a newer, different avenue to be expressed is pretty repellent.  but if our reality TV/cctv culture is introducing the idea to an otherwise healthy mind and then warping it toward delusion that would otherwise not have been realized, then that is truly despicable.

      is this possible?  I’ve browsed a bit of the wikis, but maybe someone reading knows?  surely someone in the mental health field has researched this?

  9. If I were the subject of a reality tv program, it would have been cancelled long ago from lack of viewership.  Seriously, even the sound of me typing this comment is boring.

  10. The delusion and narcissism are one side of the Truman show scenario, the other side involves some some people who are really are having their intimate moments unknowingly broadcast to the world, or so these two sub-reddits would have you believe.  Google search turns up nothing.  Anyone know if those sub-reddits are legit?

  11. You guys at BB ever pick up a bible in your lives? It’s scriptural and predates the Truman Show by centuries — everything is recorded, even whispers under your breath when you think no one can hear you, and everything to the finest detail will be revealed eventually, there’s nothing you can hide. Matthew 10:26, Luke 12:2, Luke 8:17.. It’s not a disorder, it’s a worldview held by millions and millions worldwide.

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