“A New Kind of Delusion” discusses an exploration by psychiatrist Joel Gold and philosopher Ian Gold. The brothers have been studying a growing mental illness in which a person believes they are, unknowingly, the star of a reality television show. As this sounds somewhat like the protagonist’s actual fate in the 1998 film “The Truman Show,” the brothers have coined the condition the ‘Truman Show delusion’. Gold and Gold deem this to be a culturally based display of psychotic thinking.
The brothers hypothesise that certain aspects of modern culture could be driving this drift of the Truman Delusion. They suggest that extensive video surveillance in some cities, for example, could create a plausible reason for people to believe people are watching them.
Gold and Gold are also particularly fascinated by the idea that such elements of culture may be affecting people with no apparent mental illness.
Critics say the occurrence is "old wine in new bottles" as it contains similar features as other psychotic delusions. Psychiatrist David Downing mentions, as an example, that delusional people during World War II believed that the Germans were spying on them. However, the Gold brothers maintain that certain aspects of the Truman Show delusion are original, such as the fact that it extends to everyone in the sufferer’s life rather than to only a specific group, and its potential to affect otherwise mentally healthy people.
Joel Gold claims that more attention needs to be paid to a patient’s culture and background, when diagnosing and treating them.
“A New Kind of Delusion” is a fascinating read. The article provides enough information to give the reader an insight into the subject, but is interesting enough to encourage them to research it further.
The Golds say that they are not claiming a delusion about being watched is a new mental illness, but simply that the Truman Show delusion shows that culture has a significant influence on psychosis. Downing’s point, that psychosis has always been influenced by culture, such as during World War II and the Cold War, is valid. When viewed from this angle, it does appear that the Truman Show delusion is merely another variety of the same illness, and that the cultural influence aspect is something that medical professionals have been aware of for a long time. However, as the Golds argue, it seems that this particular delusion is more extensive than any previous examples.
On reading the article, one of the things to strike me was how potentially difficult the Truman Show delusion could be to diagnose. If a patient believes that everyone in his life is part of the TV show, then this would include his psychiatrist. Therefore, it is possible that the patient wouldn’t tell the truth, as he would feel that the psychiatrist was also party to the conspiracy against him.
Although delusions about being watched are not new to the field of abnormal psychology, the Truman Show delusion does appear to contribute as it is far more broad than other examples. Furthermore, the notion that this delusion could draw in an otherwise healthy individual is much more unique and, if this is true, much attention needs to be given to it.
As discussed, World War II is known to have influenced people’s delusions at the time. However, the war was a huge event that took over millions of people’s everyday lives, whereas “The Truman Show” was just a film. The two cultural events are on completely different scales, and the fact that a film can have as big, if not bigger, an impact than a world war is ground-breaking.