The Psychology of Love Island

Love Island is many people’s guilty pleasure. The ITV2 show has gone from having a cult following to being a mainstream mega-hit, with over 3 million people regularly tuning in at 9pm each night to watch it.


We couldn’t help but get drawn into the Love Island vortex this year and so thought it would be interesting to cast a psychological eye over it. What causes the participants to act the way they do? What can we learn from them? And most importantly, can we use some of this research to help us all (including both students and athletes) perform better in our day to day lives?


Managing Stress

The contestants of Love Island seem to find the whole experience very stressful. One of the biggest causes of stress and constant topic of conversation revolves around ‘recoupling’. For the uninitiated, recoupling is where the contestants find out if they will be paired up with a fellow contestant or if they will be kicked off the show.

But why do they find this process so stressful? A fascinating study from the University College London found that uncertainty is one of the biggest causes of stress. It is not the worst case scenario that really sets emotional alarm bells ringing, it’s the ambiguity of not knowing what is going to occur that really stresses people out. This is why school students often feel stressed at the start of a school year or before a big exam, as they don’t know what the future will hold. 



On Love Island, some contestants seem to couple up quickly, almost with the first person they see, to ensure they don’t get axed from the show. Whereas others adopt a riskier but more long term strategy and wait for new contestants to arrive in the hope of finding “the one”. This echoes one of the most famous psychological experiments – affectionately known as ‘the marshmallow experiment’.

The marshmallow experiment told young students that they could have one marshmallow now or wait until later and receive two. Those who waited longer went on to do better at school, have higher quality relationships and more career success. Self-control is an important skill for everyone – be it not checking mobile phones all the time or not procrastinating too much at the job at hand. 



Have you noticed that the contestants on Love Island seem to really start fancying someone only when someone else shows an interest in that person? Scanning the research on the psychology of jealousy to date, known triggers seem to include low self-esteem, emotional instability, insecurity, over-reliance on a partner, feelings of inadequacy and worrying about the future.

Could it possibly be that this jealousy is prompted by them feeling unsure about their place on the show? Worrying about the future is one of the things that causes young people to have a high fear of failure. Other triggers include shame and embarrassment, letting people down and significant others losing interest in you. Having a high fear of failure can prevent people from performing at their best. It is known to have a negative impact on both students in school and athletes in their sporting endeavours. This can be managed by focusing on what one can control, seeing mistakes as opportunities to grow and not bottling up one’s feelings. 



When new contestants arrive on the show, the dynamics of the group and the show change dramatically. This was seen recently when two new female contestants arrived three days after the rest, with some of the other contestants not being too pleased to see them. So how can we explain this?

One of the most famous studies in psychology was a study on group identity. Researchers divided a group of students into random groups. They found that just being in one group was enough to make some of the students hate the other group. Despite the groups being similar in nature, even an insignificant difference (in this case on Love Island, arriving a few days late) is enough to create an ‘in group’ and an ‘out group’. 



Everyone seems to cry on Love Island. A lot. Like every other minute. So, assuming the tears are definitely not just for show, what do tears tell us and why can they help? The research on this is mixed and varied. Crying can be therapeutic, with some researchers finding that tears for sadness have more proteins in them compared to other types of tears (i.e. chopping onions). Others suggest that crying acts as a cue to other people that the person who is upset needs more supports. Having social support and a team around you is an integral part of developing resilience and self-regulation.



As with all reality TV, it’s probably a good idea to take everything you see with more than just a pinch of salt. The stress may not be real. The tears not always 100% genuine. But knowing why people find events stressful or how to overcome insecurities and the fear of failure is certainly interesting. So whether you are a Love Island super-fan or a cynic who just enjoys looking at pretty people say silly things, at least now you know the psychology of Love Island and what it teaches us about how to be successful in both education and in life.

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