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Big Brother’s Watching You

June 10th, 2005

Dr Petra

Each summer when the new series of Big Brother goes on television, a friend, colleague or someone I meet can be relied upon to say:

‘I bet you wish you were asked to be on Big Brother’.

And every year the answer’s the same. ‘I am’.

This week the call came in.

‘Hi Petra, I’m ___________ from Big Brother. I expect someone’s called you before, but we’d like you to give some comments for this years programme. Some of the housemates are being sexual and we’d like a psychologist to explain this’.

I explained to the researcher that, yes, I had been called before, and every year I express reservations about the programme – primarily that the experts used are often not required to use any psychology, they’re just asked to commentate on the programme.

I’m also concerned that experts are asked to be judgemental about the housemates, and the programme places people in situations that social scientists would be forbidden from doing on ethical grounds.

Every year, this one inluded, I say I might be interested in participating, but only if I can do something based on psychological evidence.

‘How psychological do you want to be?’
they asked. ‘We want you to look at the housemates and tell us their secrets from what their bodies are saying’.

‘For that you’d need a body language expert’,
I suggested. ‘My work’s more on sex and relationship issues’.

‘Well can you comment on what they’re doing sexually? Some people might find it rude or shocking, do you think they’re behaving badly?’

I explained how I didn’t want to go on the programme to criticise the contestants, and really was only interested if we could take issues from the show and discuss them more widely.

In the past I’ve suggested to the programme makers if housemates were jealous, starting or ending a relationship, or flirting, that I could comment on those issues generally and then perhaps discuss them in a way that might help viewers in similar situations.

In the past and on this occasion too, that wasn’t welcomed. ‘We want it to be about the housemates only, and it has to be shocking’, I was told.

I suggested perhaps relationship therapists might be useful (although I had my doubts if they’d want to be involved). ‘Ooh no we don’t want them because we’re not doing anything abnormal’, they told me. ‘We want psychologists because that’s what Big Brother is about – psychology’.

It’s true. The show is all about psychology. But if you don’t get psychologists on as experts, or if you invite guests on who don’t know the first thing about psychology, or aren’t able to apply their psychological skills, then it’s a missed opportunity.

So it looks like another year of not wanting experts who can explain things in a useful way, or psychologists who can use any psychology. If you’re happy to commentate rather than evaluate, judge rather than discuss, then you’re welcome.

If not, it’s the usual parting shot.

‘I don’t suppose you know anyone who’ll be happy to be on the show? We’ve tried lots of experts and they all say no’.

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