Traitor or Faithful: A Researcher's Take on the Psychological Drama of The Traitors

January is finally over. It was a month with infinite days, dark nights, frosty mornings, new beginnings and of course, The Traitors. A show that united the nation (well, 6.9 million of us) for 4 weeks of pure TV gold. In a world where we can binge pretty much everything, having to wait for the next drop of episodes felt agonising at times, but, thanks to the internet, Traitors hype was everywhere. From Ar Di (RIP) to Jazatha Christie; from Paul being portrayed as TV’s best villain since the likes of Nasty Nick, to Brian’s round table meltdown, the memes were unavoidable. And, let’s not forget Claudia’s wardrobe – it’s no coincidence that searches for kilts on John Lewis’ website are up 92% vs. this time last year.

And here at Boxclever it’s been no different, The Traitors obsession was real. There was a dedicated teams chat that grew in popularity and by the end of the series about a third of the company had joined. There were rules that had to be abided by, new members were screened to make sure they had watched the first series too. It was serious business. It even had its own special mention at the company-wide weekly Monday meeting.

It wasn’t enough to just watch the show, reacting live in the chat as the episodes were broadcast was both encouraged and fully embraced (it was hard to keep up at times!). We commented on every murder, picked apart every banishment, every over (or under) reaction at the round table. We questioned their decisions, we cringed, we laughed – we collectively psychoanalysed the players’ every move. And why?

Because human beings are fascinating, that’s why.

And here is the bit where I liken it to our job. As researchers, this is a huge part of what we get to do every day. And we love it. Understanding people, their behaviours, their emotions and the impact they have on why they make, or rather don’t make, a particular decision is all in a day’s work. And The Traitors is full of it! Classic psychological principles that can be attributed to nearly all the twists and turns of the game and justify the players’ behaviours.

There was herd mentality – I lost count of the number of times the more dominant voices of the round table subconsciously influenced other players’ decision making of who should be banished. Then there was the halo effect surrounding Harry for pretty much the entire series – he was absolutely, 100% faithful, even Harry himself believed it. Yeah, right.

There were all the times the contestants would say they’ll do something, and then get to the round table and not actually do it (Jaz, we’re looking at you). There were the last minute emotions that often got the better of them and influenced their judgements (Mollie, we’re looking at you). The Traitors is so much more than a gameshow, it’s a melting pot of human psychology and behaviours at its finest.

for us to be good researchers, we need to have a good understanding of these psychological principles

To help us understand human behaviour and decision-making. It helps us explain some of those insights that just don’t make sense, or helps us fill the gaps with behaviours that us as human beings struggle to articulate.

Check out Chrissie’s blog post from October that talks about some of these principles in more detail and what we as researchers can do about them to try and mitigate their impact. I think you’ll agree that all of these things have been very present in The Traitors. Are there any other examples you can think of?

For now though, this is it for another 12 months and in the meantime I will have to look elsewhere to fill The Traitors void in my life. Thank goodness for the US and Australian versions. Glass of fizzy rosé, anyone?