One of my current favorite reality shows is Big Brother (which is in it’s 16th season on CBS). I love reality t.v. and I’m not afraid to admit that it’s my guilty pleasure. As psychology professor, people often assume that “you’re inside their mind”. For that exact reason, I rarely tell strangers that I have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Over the years, I have mastered the ability to “turn off” making generalizations and interpreting observations of friends and family members in social situations. Truth be told, psychologists are experts in behavior and it’s hard to not make observations.
In my mind, Big Brother could be considered one of the biggest social psychology experiments. There is so much data about social interactions and the art of persuasion. The show is very interesting and comedic. Which is the main reason that I watch it. Only after the episode tonight did it dawned on me that “this is really a great example of psychology in action”. Having just finished teaching a summer class on Introduction to Psychology, these concepts are fresh on my mind. So why not examine the psyche of Big Brother?
If we took an in-depth look inside the minds of the players we could see so many psychology concepts played out on the screen. If you’re a fan of the show you know that Big Brother participants and past winners pride themselves on “playing a good social game” to make it to the end of the show. From a psychological perspective, social influence is the process of people directly or indirectly influencing the behaviors, feelings, and thoughts of other individuals. Clearly, Big Brother demonstrates a lot of social influences on the show. These influences range from being the H.O.H (head of household) to Power of Veto holder.
Often these social exchanges are influenced by persuasion, which is the process by which one person tries to change the beliefs, opinions, positions, or course of action of another person through arguments, pleading, or explanations. Persuasion is not a simple matter and takes skill. Some of the best Big Brother players in this season and past winners have demonstrated extraordinary persuasive skills.
According to the scientific literature on persuasion, there are several factors that become important when examining the art of persuasion. Some key factors demonstrated on Big Brother include:
So many social phenomena were displayed on Big Brother. On a recent episode, you could have count on more than one hand the concepts I explicitly discussed above. The recent show (about a week ago) concluded with a climatic ending when Nicole was literally thrown under the bus or in psych terms “was the scapegoat”. The scapegoat is a social psychology term that describes a person or a group (typically a member of an out-group) who serves as the target for the frustrations and negative emotions of the in-group (the in-group being the Bomb Squad and Detonators). Somehow, the in-group persuaded (Christine, current H.O.H) to put Nicole on the block.
Big Brother is a complex show and as they say “expect the unexpected”. You have to be a very intelligent player on some level to end up in the final two. It makes me wonder, how many producers of Big Brother have degrees in psychology?
Copyright 2014 Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D.
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Dr. Turner is a licensed psychologist with expertise in behavioral pediatrics, child mental health, disruptive behavior disorders, and minority mental health. He is also certified as a National Register Health Service Psychologist.