The finale of ITV’s Love Island was watched by millions of fans, many commenting live on social media as Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu and Davide Sanclimenti received the £50,000 prize. The four couples who made it to the final will now leave the village of Mallorca, where they kissed, cried and broke up over the past eight weeks. When they enter the outside world, they will be greeted with great attention.
Some of this is positive – lucrative business opportunities, partnerships with popular brands and thousands of new social media followers. Another attention will be in the form of online abuse and trolling of viewers.
Love Island (and indeed all reality shows) is an interesting case study in psychology, from the social experiment of isolating people in a house for a period of time, to the relationship between the audience and the contestant. The fine line between reality and fiction creates a strong attachment for fans to the show, but it also contributes to mental health issues for the contestants themselves.
This article is part of Quarter Life, a series on issues that affect those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of starting a career and taking care of our mental health, to the thrill of starting a family, adopting a pet, or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and provide answers as we navigate this turbulent time in life.
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Like soap operas, reality shows are made up of stories that follow characters (although they may be real people). Viewers who watch hours of these shows can develop attachments to the characters, where they feel they are “one” with the people on screen.
Psychologists describe this as a parasocial relationship, a one-sided, non-reciprocal friendship or connection with a person they only know through a screen. Research has found that following celebrities and media figures on social media platforms can blur the lines between social and parasocial relationships. Our interaction and engagement with social media posts does not differ significantly between close friends or famous people.
Viewers’ past experiences reflect what they think of a character, creating empathy or disdain. In a parasocial relationship, a viewer can feel a closeness and connection in their lives with a person who doesn’t know they exist and based solely on the television show’s plot.
Soap actors discussed being yelled at in the street by “fans” because of their characters’ behavior on a scripted fictional show. Eastenders star Louisa Lytton said abuse is a daily occurrence.
Love Island contestants enter the village as a relatively unknown person in society, and leave to a barrage of messages from viewers, all responses to the show’s editing, of which the contestants themselves may not know the full extent. This exponential increase in their awareness as a person, character and celebrity creates a dramatic and fundamental shift in their lives. Psychological support is critical to successfully navigating her newfound fame.
ITV provides mental health support and other resources to competitors during the filming process. Starting in 2022, this includes training islanders on “the impacts of social media and how to deal with potential negativity.”
The psychology of trolls
Love Island has a long history of mental health issues, including the death of two former contestants and former presenter Caroline Flack by suicide. Alex George, a former islander, became the government’s first youth mental health ambassador.
Many of the psychological challenges associated with Love Island are linked to the onslaught of social media directed at competitors. Former islanders Kem Cetinay and Amber Gill now host a mental health series, The Full Treatment, where they discuss the experience of abuse that comes from tweets and forums during and after the show’s airing.
Psychologists define so-called keyboard warriors or trolls as individuals with a sense of inner emotional turmoil, using their perceived power to invisibly belittle others as a form of self-satisfaction from their inner crisis. Recent research has found that keyboard warriors have personality traits associated with the dark personality triad: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.
The apparent safety behind the keyboard allows people to say what they feel without the repercussions of negative emotional and verbal abuse that would be socially unacceptable face to face.
Read More: Love Island’s Tasha Is The Show’s First Deaf Contestant – Here’s What You Should Know About Deaf Accents
Love Island is about contestants looking for love, but it’s also about seeking public approval in the form of votes to finally win the £50,000 prize. This pushes competitors straight into the path of viewers’ unfiltered thoughts and comments, filled with envy, admiration, and vitriol. This need for public attention makes reality shows and its aftermath a psychological minefield for participants.
Love Island is on six nights a week for eight weeks straight. This can also cause mental health issues for regular viewers. Research suggests that people who watch series become so involved in the characters’ lives and stories that when they end, they may face feelings of depression, emptiness, anxiety and even loneliness.
But because of the 24/7 world of social media, Love Island never really ends. Fans have ample opportunity to comment on the show and its competitors on social media. The show itself encourages this by sponsoring a forum on Reddit.
The contestants’ social profiles are also kept up to date by friends and family while they are in the village, further blurring the lines between the contestants’ lives before, during and after the show.
It’s okay to watch the show and discuss it with friends (and strangers) online. But viewers of Love Island (or any reality show) should remember when commenting that islanders are human too.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Rachael Molitor does not work with, consult with, own stock or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article and has not disclosed relevant affiliations other than her academic appointment.