Truman Syndrome (Truman Show Delusion)

Truman syndrome also known as Truman Show Delusion, is a type of delusion in which a person thinks that their lives are being filmed as reality shows. After the 1998 film The Truman Show, brothers Joel and Ian Gold, a psychiatrist and a neurophilosopher, accordingly, created the term on film boards in 2008.

The truman syndrome (truman show delusion) is not formally recognized nor classified in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

Background

The Truman Show is a 1998 comedic drama film written by Andrew Niccol and directed by Peter Weir. Truman Burbank is played by Jim Carrey, a guy who learns he is living in a fabricated reality that is broadcasted across the world 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

His life story has been filmed since he was in the womb, and all of the individuals in his life have been professional actors. Burbank strives to find a way out of those who have ruled over him his whole life as he finds the truth about his existence.

The concept precedes this film, which was inspired by “Special Service,” a 1989 episode of The Twilight Zone in its 1980s version that opens with the protagonist finding a camera in his bathroom mirror. This man soon discovers that his life is being streamed to TV viewers all over the world 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Time Out of Joint (1959) by Philip K. Dick is a novel in which the protagonist lives in a constructed world in which his “family” and “friends” are all expected to keep the illusion going. The subject is repeated in later science fiction works. While these works do not include the reality-show elements of The Truman Show, they do have the notion of a world built around one’s particular characteristics by others.

Delusions

Delusions – fixed or false ideas, are signs of mental disorder in the absence of biological disease. Although the nature of delusions varies greatly (limited only by the delusional person’s imagination), some themes have been found, such as persecution. These themes are diagnostic in nature, pointing to certain disorders. Persecutory delusions, for example, are often associated with psychosis.

Influence on culture

Delusions are inextricably linked to a person’s life experience, and current society appears to have a significant impact. A retrospective research published in 2008 revealed how delusional content has progressed over time, from religious/magical to political to technological themes. The writers came to the following conclusion:

Social and political changes, as well as scientific and technological advancements, have a significant impact on the delusional content of schizophrenia.

According to psychiatrist Joseph Weiner:

In the 1940s, schizophrenic patients would scream about their brains being controlled by radio waves; nowadays, delusional patients frequently worry about computer chips implanted in their bodies.

The truman show delusion might be the next step in the evolution of persecutory delusions in response to changing mainstream culture.

Because reality programs are so widely broadcast, it’s an easy area for a patient to include into their delusional system. A person like this would assume that they are always being filmed, observed and remarked on by a big television audience.

Reported cases

While the exact incidence of the condition is unknown, some hundred cases have been documented.

People from all around the world have been reported to be experiencing with the truman show delusion.

The leading researchers on the issue are Joel Gold, a psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City and Clinical Associate Professor of psychiatry at New York University, and his brother Ian, who owns a research chair in Philosophy and Psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal.

Since 2002, they’ve talked with over a hundred people who are suffering from the illusion.

One patient went to New York City after 9/11 to assure the terrorist events weren’t a plot twist in his own truman show, while another went to a federal building in Lower Manhattan to seek sanctuary from his show.

Some other patient had done an internship on a reality TV show and felt he was being watched by cameras at all times, including at the polls on Election Day in 2004.

He yelled that then-President George W. Bush was a “Judas,” attracting the attention of Bellevue Hospital and Gold.

One of Gold’s patients, an upper-middle-class Army veteran who wished to climb the Statue of Liberty in the hopes of escaping the “show,” characterized his situation as follows:

  • I realized I was and continue to be the center of attention for millions upon millions of people.
  • My family and everybody I knew were and are characters in a play, a deception designed to make me the center of the universe’s attention.

The Golds chose the name “Truman Show Delusion” because three of the five sufferers Joel Gold treated for the condition directly connected their experiences to the film.

Truman syndrome

The “Truman Syndrome” was reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry by psychiatrists Paolo Fusar-Poli, Oliver Howes, Lucia Valmaggia, and Philip McGuire of the Institute of Psychiatry in London:

A preoccupying idea that the world had altered in some manner that other people were aware of, which he took as implying that he was the subject of a film and lived in a film set (a “constructed world”).

This cluster of symptoms is a typical presenting complaint in those who may be in the early stages of schizophrenia.

The “Truman explanation,” according to the authors, is the outcome of the patients’ search for meaning in their impression that the everyday world has changed in some major yet unfathomable way.

Medical relevance

The truman show delusion is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and is not included in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

The Golds describe it as “a variation on recognized persecutory and grandiose delusions,” rather than a novel diagnosis.

Reaction of the filmmaker

After learning about the disorder, Andrew Niccol, writer of The Truman Show, stated, “You know you’ve made it when you have a sickness named after you.”

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