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Media psychologists are being put to the test in reality TV as they face increasingly high levels of risk in their work.

Media psychologists are being put to the test in reality TV as they face increasingly high levels of risk in their work.


The potential harm to the mental wellbeing of reality TV contestants is on the rise as TV companies and creators push the limits in order to create more captivating and appealing content. Despite the increasing involvement of psychologists in these productions, they may not always be the most qualified and their guidance may not always be heeded.

TV and movie studios are now prioritizing the protection of participants’ mental well-being following accusations of manipulative and forceful behavior, as well as the unfortunate suicides of individuals on shows such as Love Island and The Jeremy Kyle Show. Additionally, they are facing the challenge of maintaining viewership amidst an increasingly competitive and financially challenging industry.

Dr. Howie Fine, a consultant clinical psychologist, who worked on Channel 4’s “The Jury: Murder Trial,” which was broadcasted last week, believes it is important to keep the audience engaged by constantly pushing the limits and exploring new genres to create more engaging and alluring television.

There is a growing fascination with dark subjects, seen in the popularity of true crime documentaries and shows like “The Jury.” This curiosity may lead us to take greater risks as we continue to push societal boundaries.

Fine is part of a increasing group of psychologists in media production who are employed to evaluate contributors and devise techniques to enhance their ability to recover from difficult situations and provide them with assistance during the production procedure.

According to Fine, who has worked on popular shows like SAS Who Dares Wins and The Traitors UK through his company Mindzone Media, the risks to participants were well managed thanks to the sufficient funds allocated for support.

He stated that the job was intricate. He compared it to dealing with psychosis, eating disorders, and self-harm because it involves managing a high level of potential risk. However, unlike Fine’s title, “media psychologist” is not a regulated term, allowing anyone to declare themselves as such.

Howie Fine

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The British Psychological Society (BPS) unveiled a new directory of media production psychologists last week, in order to streamline the process for companies to find appropriate assistance. According to Professor John Oates, who leads the BPS’s media ethics advisory group, it is crucial that production companies utilize psychologists with the appropriate qualifications, experience, and certification to safeguard all involved parties.

Certain formats pose more difficulties compared to others. The Jury: Murder Trial consisted of redoing a trial with actors and recording the discussions of the jury to determine if they arrived at the same decision as the initial jury. Additionally, a secret second jury was included in the experiment. Participants were not only exposed to disturbing evidence and had to navigate conflicting opinions with their fellow jurors, but they also had to be conscious of potential public criticism following the broadcast.

Fine stated that the production process involved a high level of attention and concern, making it “unprecedented”. Despite careful planning and attention to detail, there is still an element of uncertainty in all productions.

According to Fine, we are able to effectively communicate with participants in their usual environment to gain insight on their reactions to any given scenario. However, placing them in a film studio, courtroom, or social experiment takes them out of their normal setting.

It is important to take into account their intentions as well. While they may openly share their reasons, there may also be hidden motivations, such as seeking publicity and boosting their online presence. If this is their primary motivation, it can influence their actions.

In addition, on separate projects, psychologists assert that they have not received complete information about the show, or have not been involved in the entire production process.

According to Oates, media outlets and production companies are constantly seeking innovative formats or adjustments to existing ones, often resulting in increased psychological strain on participants.

To effectively evaluate a person’s level of resilience and potential psychological harm when faced with challenges, a psychologist must be aware of the specific details. However, in the entertainment industry, these details are often kept confidential or created spontaneously.

Production teams do not always follow the advice given by psychologists. Fiona Fletcher, who is the head of production and welfare at ScreenDog Productions, a production company based in Brighton that specializes in creating factual and social experiment programmes such as The Jury: Murder Trial, expressed that without support from senior level, simply implementing the psychologist’s recommendations becomes a mere checkmark on a list.

According to Dr. Matthew Gould, a clinical psychologist and outside consultant for ITV, the key to an effective duty of care is addressing the well-being of contributors, crew members, and the overall company. While there are promising efforts being implemented at each level, it is crucial that they are all coordinated. Since risk is constantly changing, it is vital to keep a close watch on potential sources of harm and determine the most beneficial protective measures.

Fletcher stated that not only the most emotionally intense programs require this approach. Even in a lighthearted documentary, such as one focused on owning a home in the countryside, individuals should be provided with support because they are sharing their personal lives and experiences with us.

Some individuals are adept at managing that situation, while others initially appear to manage it effectively but end up feeling emotionally devastated.

  • Samaritans can be reached at no cost by dialing 116 123 in the UK and Ireland. They can also be contacted by emailing [email protected] or [email protected]. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached by calling or texting 988, chatting online at 988lifeline.org, or texting HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor. Lifeline, the crisis support service in Australia, can be reached at 13 11 14. Additional helplines for international support can be found at befrienders.org.

Source: theguardian.com