Reality TV shows, such as the hugely popular ‘Love Island’ or the fading favourite ‘Big Brother’, often exploit the human reactions created when a group of people are kept in close quarters for a long period of time. This process of incarceration often engenders extreme reactions that would often take more provocation in the outside world.
Following a recent episode of Love Island, Women’s Aid issued a warning about psychological abuse, urging viewers to ‘recognise unhealthy behaviour in relationships’. This comment was released after one of the male contestants showed some potentially worrying actions that were perceived to border on emotional abuse. The ‘islander’ in question was also deemed by the online community to be ‘gaslighting’ his fellow contestant – a modern term meaning a malicious process by which an abuser manipulates a victim’s perception of reality. The perceived emotional abuse doesn’t just extend to interactions between the personalities on the show, but also to the actions of the producers when dealing with contestants. Ofcom received over 2,600 complaints from fans of the show who regarded the treatment of a contestant by the show’s organisers to be distressing after the participant seemed visibly upset.
So why, if these kinds of television programmes do show such extreme behaviour, do these shows continue to have millions of viewers? In the first instance, it may be due our need for drama as fuel to our otherwise bland lives. In the second, it could be born out of our innate desire to be story tellers and to find highly-charged common talking points. Psychology applicants might be interested investigating the concept of schadenfreude in relation to reality TV. Students hoping to study HSPS or English could explore the concept of escapism from real-world life via different media.