Is reality TV your guilty pleasure? Well, we have bad news for you: some types of reality TV can make you more aggressive.
A study published in Psychology of Popular Media Culture has found that watching reality TV wherein the cast members routinely attack or undermine their rivals can raise aggression in viewers. By how much? More than violent crime dramas.
127 college students watched an episode of one of three types of TV show: a reality show with not much aggression (Little People, Big World, or Little Couple), a reality show with a lot of aggression (Jersey Shore or Real Housewives of Beverly Hills), or a violent crime drama (CSI or Dexter).
After watching the show, researchers had them participate in a “separate study” which wasn’t actually separate at all. They had to write essays which they were told would be evaluated by other participants. In reality, the evaluations (which were either glowing or terrible) were randomly distributed.
Then, each student participated in a timed-reaction game where they were told that their opponent was the person who evaluated their essay. Each time they won twenty-five rounds of the game, they were allowed to hit the loser with a loud, unpleasant sound like “fingernails on a chalkboard, dentist drills, and ambulance sirens”. Researchers measured their level of aggression based on how high the student turned the volume.
Those who watched Jersey Shore or Real Housewives used the most amount of noise. Those who watched the non-aggressive reality TV were the least aggressive, and those who watched the crime show were sort of in the middle.
Researchers say that the reality TV aggressive behaviour is more relatable than the crime show aggressive behaviour—you’re more likely to see lying, manipulating, and yelling than violence and murders in your day-to-day life. This activates an aggressive “schema”, which is a psychology term for “a pattern imposed on complex reality or experience to assist in explaining it, mediate perception, or guide response.”
In other words, seeing the aggressive, bad behaviour of reality TV makes it more normal for viewers, who in turn act more aggressively.
So, all that being said, we’re going to fire up the ‘ol Starcraft II—for the sake of our psychological health.