The Truman Show Experiment

Jeremy Dean: “While the greatest psychology experiment imaginable has never been done, it has been filmed. The film is The Truman Show in which the main character Truman Burbank, played by Jim Carrey, lives in an entirely manufactured world, and has done since birth. The island on which he lives is a stage, his wife is an actress along with all his friends, neighbours and acquaintances – indeed everyone on the island is playing a part.

In the film, Truman’s every move is broadcast to an adoring global audience of millions – a run-of-the-mill Hollywood dream. But in the psychologist’s dream, Truman’s every move would be broadcast back to a waiting team of analysts.

All breeds of psychologists would be in on the act. Developmental psychologists examining how Truman changes over his life-span, social psychologists testing his obedience, conformity and social identity and cognitive psychologists checking his memory and attention. All in a controlled environment, and over a controlled lifespan.

The problem is that a sample size of one doesn’t play well in the academic journals. So more ‘participants’ would be required. Truman is soon joined by an ever-growing cast of participants. He would need a ‘real’ wife, ‘real’ children and ‘real’ in-laws. But as more participants are added, the environment becomes less controlled, more chaotic, open to the vagaries of human behaviour. All those nicely controlled experiments would start to break down as real participants interacted with each other in unexpected ways.

No, we need many Truman’s all in separate artificial environments – each subjected to slightly different environments and having slightly different genetic make-ups…

Right, I’m off to write my grant application. Do you think a few billion pounds ought to cover it?”

Jeremy Dean is the author of PsyBlog.

10 thoughts on “The Truman Show Experiment”

  1. I couldn’t help but wonder. If all the Trumans start interacting wouldn’t they just start showing patterns similar to regular humans. Also, what would happen if a Truman from one setting meet a Truman from another setting? And yet another, what kind of behaviour will Truman develop, or will show the moment he steps outside the bubble? The movie was right on the money. Interesting beyond Hollywood markups. Now that is a sequel I would be willing to pay to watch, if it is done well of course.Kind regards.

  2. I think that “The Truman Show” was just a metaphor, not a an actual experiment, a methaphor for acquiring self knowledge. At the end of the show, Truman did saw himself as he was, not as he thought he would be.

  3. I dont think sample size would be as much of an issue as the ethical aspect… imagine when the subject of the Truman show sequel comes to discover that his life has been continuously controlled and one long ongoing experiment. Then on the other hand, where would psychological research be today without all the controversial studies that were carried out before the harsh ethical guidelines were implemented.. hm!

  4. The problem is a sample size of one? Your problem isn’t stealing another human being’s free will? Creating a “true” paranoid delusion?I hope your practice is purely theoretical. This is a pretty basic ethical point being missed here.

  5. This is what came to my mind when I thought about an incredible experiment that has never been done! Even though it is very unethical, I wish there could be a way to do it because I am soooooo curious about the results.

  6. The real question for me is how would Truman affect a sample size of 6 billion? On his escape from a transparent and widely broadcast life, he would be the most famous person on Earth, and his every utterance would be sought after by the paparazzi and even the legitimate news outlets. How would people react to his assessment, or even judgment, of our media-driven society in which we are all targeted by advertisers (who employ teams of analysts) who hope to shape our days and lead us to identify and signify our selves with logo tribalism?
    The trial (for surely Truman would have to sue for his freedom) would dwarf the moon landing for global viewership, and it’s result would certainly alter the planetary social schema.

  7. Perhaps we're all already part of such an experiment………………….

  8. I'd have to agree with Louise Clemensen on this one. This experiment would be hugely unethical

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