Big Brother in public eye on ethics

August 4, 2000

The British Psychological Society is set to investigate a sociologist's complaint about psychologists' involvement in the television programme Big Brother.

David Miller, research manager of Stirling University's media research institute, warned the BPS that psychologists who appear on the programme or advise it may be guilty of breaching the BPS ethical code.

He named Peter Collett, senior research associate in psychology at Oxford University, and Geoffrey Beattie, professor of psychology at Manchester University.

In the programme, ten participants are under constant camera observation in a specially constructed house. Each week one is jettisoned through a vote of the other participants and viewers. The last occupant wins Pounds 70,000.

Dr Miller said the show was masquerading "as some kind of insight into human behaviour", which has already caused distress among those chosen for eviction. "I'm not a psychologist, but it seems clear the participants are being damaged, and the role of a professional psychologist ought to be to help people."

Jill Bellingham, clerk to the BPS disciplinary board and investigating committee, said that complaints went before an investigating committee, which requested comments from members. "The ultimate sanction is that a person could be removed from the register," she said.

Professor Beattie was unavailable for comment. Dr Collett said he had just heard of the complaint.

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