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Delusions tend to be classified by broad categories, such as the belief that one is being persecuted, but research has shown culture and technology can also affect them. Several recent studies have chronicled delusions entwined with the Internet such as a patient in Austria who believed she had become a walking webcam.
Reality television may help such patients convince themselves their experiences are plausible, according to the Austrian woman's psychiatrists, writing in the journal Psychopathology in 2004.
Ian Gold, a philosophy and psychology professor at McGill University in Montreal who has researched the matter with his brother, suggests reality TV and the Web, with their ability to make strangers into intimates, may compound psychological pressure on people who have underlying problems dealing with others.
That's not to say reality shows make healthy people delusional, "but, at the very least, it seems possible to me that people who would become ill are becoming ill quicker or in a different way," Ian Gold said.
Other researchers aren't convinced, but still find the "Truman syndrome" an interesting example of the connection between culture and mental health.
Vaughan Bell, a psychologist who has researched Internet-related delusions, said one of his own former patients believed he was in the virtual-reality universe portrayed in the 1999 blockbuster "The Matrix."
"I don't think that popular culture causes delusions," said Bell, who is affiliated with King's College London and the Universidad de Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia. "But I do think that it is only possible to fully understand delusions and psychosis in light of our wider culture."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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