Mental health academic warns of reality TV ‘threat to British psyche’

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Will Coldwell

Monday, 12 November 2012

Reality television’s obsession with the “emotional meltdown of losers” is damaging the British psyche – creating a society in which we revel in seeing people hacked to pieces, a leading mental health academic has warned.

Speaking ahead of an international conference on empathy and compassion, Professor Paul Gilbert, head of mental health research at Derby University, said that our ultra-competitive reality shows are akin to Roman gladiatorial contests. Shows such as Masterchef, The Apprentice and Big Brother are symptomatic of a society which is becoming more antagonistic, he said.

“Reality shows are designed to hold your interest in people when they lose, and see them despair. The focus is on the emotional meltdown of losers,” Professor Gilbert told The Independent.

“We need to be studying in detail the effect of this kind of competitive culture in the media on the young people who are growing up on it.”

“Supposing all the young people watching The Apprentice thought this was the way people did business, with all the back-stabbing and attacking each other. Would you really want to live in a world where everyone did that?”

He added: “So much is going on that is making people angry. I think people feel a bit hopeless.”

Professor Gilbert is among 30 speakers from around the world attending the Empathy and Compassion in Society Conference at Friends House in London, which starts on 23 November.

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