Jennifer Strange Trial Coverage: Medical Personnel Always Present for Reality Shows

October 2, 2009

Psychologist Dr. Diana Everstine was hired as an expert witness by plaintiff's attorneys. 

She said that from a group dynamics standpoint, as there were fewer and fewer contestants, the ones left would be more determined to win, and may not be making sound decisions.  Their adrenaline would be up, the pressure would be high, and that was compounded by the water intoxication. 

She said that reality show contestants are very closely monitored, even when they are not subject to water intoxication.  She talked about reality shows such as "Survivor," and noted that contestants for such contests are screened carefully, that psychologists and medical personnel were always present, and contestants went through medical screening after the contests were completed. 

Defense attorney Carlson established that there is no direct research that has been conducted on contests.  He referred to a study cited by Everstine that dealt with students posing as prisoners and prison guards, and noted that in that study, people were physically locked up.  With regard to the Wii contest, Carlson said: "Anyone could leave if they wanted to?"  Everstine:  "Yes." 

Carlson asked about competitive natures, and again referred to Kevin Williams,  the contestant who first had gone on the radio and promised he would win, but later dropped out when he had had too much.  Everstine stated that "people who brag the most often do the least."   Carlson said that Williams listened to his body and quit, and that after he went to the bathroom, he came back and felt fine.  Everstine said that would indicate to her he was not impaired, but also noted that perhaps the other contestants were not able to listen to their bodies and were compromised.

Carlson discussed another study with Everstine, one out of Yale where adults were told they were participating in a study on the effect of punishment and learning, and were asked to apply increasingly greater shocks to a subject (actually an actor hired to act as though he'd been shocked.)  Carlson asked what role Jennifer would be playing in such a study, the one giving or getting a shock?  Everstine said she had no role.  The Radio staff?  Everstine said they played neither role.  

She did say that the frontal lobe of the brain enables people to understand consequences, and that that lobe is not fully developed until the early 20's; that's why teenagers don't well understand consequences.  She thought the frontal lobe would have been impaired by the contest and contestants would not have fully understood the consequences of their actions.

Carlson asked whether Jennifer was in a rational state of mind when she decided to take the Justin Timberlake tickets;  Everstine thought not.  Carlson pointed out that she had turned down the Timberlake tickets the first time they were offered.

On redirect, Everstine said the two studies cited were textbook stuff.  Dreyer asked whether in any of the studies about group dynamics anyone had been required to ingest anything;  Everstine said no.  She also said there is a big difference between being in sports and being in a contest.  She said atheletes train, and often will play with fractures without knowing about them until later.  She said contestants had no idea what they were getting into. 

Regarding Kevin Williams, Dreyer asked whether his awareness of what water intoxication was might have influenced his decision to leave the contest; Everstine said yes.

See video of the Jennifer Strange story at www.broadcastblues.tv .

See September archives for earlier trial coverage and media commentary..

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