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Sky TV’s understanding of ‘psychology’ and ‘relationships’

November 25th, 2009

Dr Petra

Researchers working for a planned series for Sky TV have been busy this week trying to recruit participants:

Here’s the message they’ve been posting on various internet sites:

Would you like to take part in a SKY1 TV SERIES?


SKY1 are producing an exciting, fun & intelligent psychology TV series.

In each episode, our expert team of psychologists and a neuroscientist will analyse an aspect of human behaviour, such as power, sexual attraction and humour with a series of psychological experiments, stunts and clips, involving real people.

For our programme focusing on the psychology of relationships we are looking to feature a variety of couples at different stages of their relationship from all backgrounds between the ages of 19 – 35.

Both partners MUST be willing to be involved and available for filming THIS month.

We are casting NOW for open and honest couples who feel that they fit into the relationship types below, please contact us NOW for further information and an application form.

Couples in a new relationship (1 week – 3 months)

Couples in a long term relationship who are happily in love

Couples who are presently having difficulties in their relationship

Same sex couples

We also need SINGLE MALES AND FEMALES who are self confessed current serial daters. Possibly using dating sites, speed dating nights etc.

If you are interested in being involved, please email your contact details to ___________ or call us on ___________.

We are casting now, so please apply ASAP!

We look forward to hearing from you.

Unsurprisingly some people have complained about the tone of this ‘invitation’. In fact I heard about it by someone who saw it and was concerned about the tone of the approach. They felt it was demanding and hinted at potential exploitation of participants and wanted to know if, as a psychologist, I thought it was ethical.

If this was for a psychological research study then no, this approach would not be acceptable. It is pushy and leading and not likely to encourage a representative range of participants. However, this is for television where those issues are less important.

I was also asked about the involvement of psychologists in this show and at this time it is difficult to comment. Who knows who they will be? What roles they will be invited to play? Whether what they are required to do on the programme will contravene ethical standards that might apply in their usual practice? Or whether they will be genuinely qualified psychologists?

While relationships are definitely worth exploring, we don’t just use ‘experiments’ to assess them, and certainly don’t tend to use artificial scenarios to test out couples. So that may ring some warning bells about how psychology, relationships research, and experiments are understood. The inclusion criteria of guests aged 19-35 also is worrying given we don’t stop enjoying relationships in our mid-thirties (although this is a common cut-off age journalists like to use).

It could be this series might mimic the standard approach to misunderstanding psychological research, simplistic use of brain scanning, not following ethical principles, nor applying current evidence. It may introduce situations that distress participants and harm their relationship rather than encourage reflection.

But it may surprise us and give us an insight on relationships. The clumsy invitation may be hiding a genuine opportunity to explore relationships issues.

My hunch is the latter is unlikely, but let’s watch this space. I’m always happy to be proved wrong.

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