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Tuesday, 27 Jan 2015

Can Reality TV Harm the Participants?

By Dr. Becky Spelman
reality tv

photo credit: reflexer via photopin cc

In a word, yes – although it doesn’t have to, and sometimes the outcome can even be good! Everyone is different, and while participating in a reality show can be a huge challenge for some people, others may thrive.

Big Brother enthusiasts recently saw celebrity blogger and general shock-merchant, Perez Hilton, featuring in the iconic Big Brother house. To say that he hasn’t been popular is an understatement. So what might the impact on him be when the show is over and he has to reenter the normal world?

As a psychologist, my view is that the undeniably intelligent Perez has traits that are very consistent with a borderline personality disorder (BPD), also known as emotional regulation disorder (EDD). With this condition, people are vulnerable to dramatic mood swings and difficulties in regulating behaviour, as well as taking longer to shift from an outburst back to a normal emotional and behavioural state. There can be considerable repercussions for relationships with other people, and stress can be a major problem, both for the person with the condition, and for those who have to interact with them.

When Perez steps out of the artificial world of TV and realises that he’s become a hate figure for many, his emotional volatility may cause him to crash emotionally, and become deeply depressed. For someone whose self-esteem is likely to be bound up in what others think of him, feeling despised will be very hard. This begs the question: What were the producers thinking when they allowed someone with clear issues around emotional regulation to enter the goldfish bowl of a reality show? Of course, putting “difficult” people together can make for great reality TV, but at what risk?

On the other hand, it’s not inconceivable that someone like Perez might get just the shock he needs to realise that he could do with professional help to manage some of the more challenging aspects of his behaviour. As he is a father with a young child, surely this would be a good idea. In that scenario, taking part in the show might even be good for him in the long run.

Anyone taking part in a reality TV show is putting themselves in a highly vulnerable situation, no matter how successful they may be, or how “big” their personality. Big egos often come accompanied by complex behavioural and emotional issues, and my hope would be that Perez, and indeed all the residents of the Big Brother house, will get the psychological help they will all need to readjust to normality with no long-lasting ill effects.

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