In the news: Peter Collett

May 21, 2004

Peter Collett will be familiar to viewers of Channel 4's reality TV game show Big Brother as one of the resident psychologists. He was back on our screens this week with the first episode of the two-part Channel 4 series Body Talk .

The programmes explore the body language of politicians and celebrities to identify the signals they send subconsciously that reveal their true intentions. We hear that Bill Clinton narrows his eyes when he wants to look sincere and bites his lip when he wants people to think he is emotional - something George Bush also does.

But Dr Collett's insights have not impressed everyone. One reviewer asked:

"Couldn't you, too, have guessed all these things without a psychology degree?"

"It pisses me off," Dr Collett told The Times Higher . The former senior research fellow at the department of experimental psychology at Oxford University added: "I defy any journalist to demonstrate that they knew about these things. They think they knew it, but they just flatter themselves."

Monday's episode looks at the contrasts in the royal weddings of Charles and Diana and of Edward and Sophie. Dr Collett contends that clues about the flaws in the former royal couple's relationship were evident even at that stage.

The series is based on Collett's latest literary work, The Book of Tells .

He left Oxford to focus on writing and because he was tired of his precarious, poorly paid research position. Body Talk was a "happy accident" that allowed him to pull together work on non-verbal behaviour and communication.

Dr Collett said that psychology was set to explode on television in the same way as science programmes. Although he admitted that not everyone believes that television and scholarly credibility go hand in hand, he cited Sir Martin Rees, the astronomer royal, Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist, and Geoff Beattie, another Big Brother psychologist, as examples of top academics working with the medium.

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