What is “The Truman Show Delusion” and its treatment?

Are you being watched and recorded? We explore “The Truman Show Delusion” and the effects of reality television on our collective mental health here.

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Millions of people watch reality television every day. We discuss our favorite characters, laugh at them, and cry with them. But, what if you thought you were one of them, only you were being recorded against your will without being able to prove it?

For some people, the thought of their every move being watched and recorded by others is a real belief – it’s referred to as, “The Truman Show Delusion”. What effect does reality television have on us? And how is this delusion treated? We explore here, and invite your questions and comments about The Truman Show Delusion at the end.

What if you were a reality TV star?

Even if you don’t watch mindless reality television, you most likely have heard of The Jersey Shore, The Real World, or Toddlers in Tiaras. It’s not hard to see that anyone, regardless of wealth, popularity, or more importantly, likeability, can become famous from being on reality television.

Even if you haven’t seen or heard of any of these shows, you may have pictured what your life would be like as a reality TV show. For some people, this is more than a thought, they actually believe their life is being recorded and played for thousands of viewers.

Think about it: Have you ever suspected that someone was watching you? I don’t mean through your windows, I mean through something like a webcam or a hidden camera? I’ll admit it, after I got an Xbox Kinect, I started wondering if someone was watching and recording me while I perfected my Zumba moves. That may sound paranoid, but for some people, the thought of their every move being watched and recorded by others is a real belief.

What is The Truman Show?

This belief has led to what two doctors, Joel and Ian Gold, are calling “The Truman Show Delusion.” The delusion is named after The Truman Show in which Truman, played by Jim Carey, is living a fake life. His whole world is actually a big studio with hidden cameras everywhere. His friends, family, and other people around him are all actors. When Truman finds out he is actually trapped inside a reality show and can’t escape, things get interesting. The Gold brothers coined this term because of the coincidence that a few of their patients experiencing this delusion, actually mentioned, that they felt their lives were similar to that of Jim Carey’s character in The Truman Show. The individuals suffering from The Truman Show Delusion believe that they are constantly being filmed, everything that happens to them is staged, and everyone they know is an actor playing a role, but no one is allowed to admit it.

Media can cause us to question reality

Just like The Truman Show, other movies and television shows can play a role in individuals questioning their surroundings. For instance, in The Matrix, Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, discovers he is living in a fake world in which his mind is imprisoned within an artificial reality known as the Matrix. Have you ever questioned your surroundings and thought, “Is this real, or am I in the Matrix right now?” Do you already have an answer to the question, “Which pill would you choose; the red pill to find out just what the Matrix is, or, the blue pill to simply carry on with life as it was before and live in blissful ignorance?” It’s certainly not uncommon to think of this question, especially after seeing the movie, but for some people, it isn’t a question – they already believe they are in their version of the Matrix. Be honest, have you ever tried to bend a spoon with just your mind? I have… it didn’t work in case you were wondering.

A classic, but not so popular fake reality show called The Joe Schmo Show depicted a game show in which contestants competed for a cash prize. Unlike a typical reality show, everyone on the show was an actor portraying a broad reality show participant archetype, except for one contestant, Matt Kennedy Gould. In fact, Kristen Wiig from Bridesmaids played one of the contestants, the know-it-all psychotherapist. The whole show was one big prank played on Matt and at the end of the show, when he finally found out it was all fake, all he could say was “What is going on?” He ended up being so embarrassed about the whole premise of the show that he holed himself up in his Santa Monica apartment and spent a lot of money on marijuana and alcohol.

It’s not just reality television and movies, there’s also the internet. We’re living in the age of instant internet fame where everyone can entertain dreams of becoming a celebrity and for some, it comes true. Jenna Mourey, aka Jenna Marbles became “YouTube famous” after creating a video called “How To Trick People Into Thinking You’re Good Looking.” Not too long after that, she became the most viewed female on YouTube. See kids, you’re dreams of fame really can come true!

As you can see, reality television, movies, and the internet have certainly given people reason to believe they can become famous, but does it give them a legitimate reason to believe they are being watched? Doctors Joel and Ian Gold performed a study in order to shed more light on the bizarre delusion.

Studies on delusional thinking

One of the cases involved a man who traveled to New York City after the attack of September 11th. He expected to see the Twin Towers still standing because he believed that seeing their destruction on television was done so that people could see his personal reaction on a reality show that never existed. You can read more of these cases at the website referenced at the end of the article.

The Gold brothers first presented their findings in 2006 and since then, have learned of about 40 other cases of people who are either currently experiencing this delusion or have in the past. It’s also worth noting in the cases I read, that the individuals did have mental health issues such as schizophrenia prior to being hospitalized for this delusion.

How can you treat The Truman Show Delusion?

So, what can be done for these individuals who think they are trapped inside a reality show and can’t escape? It seems that the treatment is similar to the treatment for schizophrenia or other chronic paranoid disorders – hospitalization, medication and being kept under close supervision of a psychiatrist.

It is true, anyone can become a reality TV star or “YouTube famous.” But, for the people who think they’re actually trapped inside a reality show and can’t escape, this can be a real nightmare. If you find yourself searching through your house for cameras after reading the study by Doctors Joel and Ian Gold, don’t’ worry, I did too.

Reference Sources: Joel Gold & Ian Gold (2012): The “Truman Show” delusion: Psychosis in the global village, Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, DOI:10.1080/13546805.2012.666113
About the author
Kimberly Reynolds is a freelance writer in Dallas, Texas. She has a passion for learning new things and is currently researching and writing articles for mental health Dallas Texas practitioners. In her free time, Kimberly works towards completing her bucket list while writing about her adventures on her Bucket List Blog.
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