The Truman Show Delusion: Real or Imagined?
A few delusional people are convinced they are stars of an imaginary reality show, but doctors disagree on whether it's only an act.
Joseph Weiner, MD, PhD, chief of consultation psychiatry at North Shore
University Hospital/Manhasset and associate professor of clinical psychiatry
and medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, weighed in via email about
what he saw during his psychiatry residency.
“I recall two patients in one week who stated that they were Elizabeth
Taylor; in the 1940s, psychotic patients would express delusions about their
brains being controlled by radio waves; now delusional patients commonly
complain about implanted computer chips,” Weiner says. “Because reality shows
are so visible, it is an area that a patient can easily incorporate into a
delusional system. Such a person would believe they are constantly being
videotaped, watched, and commented upon by a large TV audience.”
Among the skeptics are Jill P. Weber, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist
in Vienna, Va. “The idea that more people are becoming delusional due to
reality TV or The Truman Show phenomenon is tenuous, as it is likely
that these people would have become psychotic with or without these influences,
but the content of the delusion would be different. If we lived in a world of
no TV, and entertainment was in the form of tribal dance, someone who is
psychotic may begin to believe that the dance is only for them.”
Still, other experts acknowledge the possibility.
Simon Rego, PsyD, associate director of psychology training at New York’s
Montefiore Medical Center, is intrigued by the notion but wants to see if more
patients emerge in other cities and countries over time.
“We know that although core themes are quite stable, shifts take place,” he
says. “For example, after 9/11, we saw a lot of delusional content about
terrorists. With the exponential growth of reality TV and the use of personal
web cams and Facebook, some people may be susceptible to developing Truman Show
delusion. The danger is self-labeling -- that we are creating a phenomenon --
not discovering one. There’s a difference.”
Carole Lieberman, MD, a Beverly Hills-based media psychiatrist, says, “There
is no question that reality TV is dangerous to our nation’s psyche. The
Truman Show delusion has not been incorporated into the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, and it
is unlikely that it will be anytime soon. However, this doesn’t
necessarily negate the clinical experiences of the Drs. Gold.”