Viewer Beware: Watching Reality TV Can Impact Real-Life Behavior | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Viewer Beware: Watching Reality TV Can Impact Real-Life Behavior

Play associated audio

In the pilot episode of Jersey Shore, we're introduced in the first minute to the "new family": Snooki, JWoww, Vinny and the rest of the gang.

A few minutes later, Snooki has already questioned JWoww's sexual morals. Vinny is calling Snooki stupid. The new family is already getting gossipy and aggressive.

That unfriendly behavior is good for TV ratings, but it might be bad news for you, the viewer. A new study led by Bryan Gibson, a psychologist at Central Michigan University, finds watching reality shows with lots of what's called relational aggression — bullying, exclusion and manipulation — can make people more aggressive in their real lives.

"We knew from past research that people who see relational aggression in media tend to become more aggressive," he explains to Tess Vigeland, guest host of NPR's weekends on All Things Considered. "Gossiping and nastiness is prevalent on these shows, so we wanted to find out whether it affected how aggressive people were after they watched."

Each participant in the study watched one of three varieties of television: an aggressive surveillance show like Jersey Shore or Real Housewives, an uplifting surveillance show like Little People, Big World, or a fictional crime drama like CSI.

After they watched one episode, people were asked to do a separate task that measured aggression. The goal was to hit a keyboard button as quickly as possible. Participants believed they were racing against someone in another room and whoever won would get to blast the other person with a loud, shrill sound.

Gibson and his team took notes on how long participants wanted to blast the sound and how loud they turned the volume up. "It turns out those who had watched Jersey Shore or Real Housewives actually gave louder, longer blasts after watching those shows than those who watched the more violent crime dramas," he says.

Gibson is quick to point out that these findings are not a reason to censor what television content makes it on air. But, he says, it's probably worth taking note if you're a parent. "This is one form of media that may appear harmless, but I think our research provides a little bit of evidence that there can be some negative outcomes as well," he says.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Ladies Lead Whiskey Renaissance As Distillers And New Tipplers

Whiskey was long considered a man's drink. But as sales of whiskey soar, it's women who are leading the new boom, thanks to a vanguard of female distillers, blenders and tasters.
NPR

Ladies Lead Whiskey Renaissance As Distillers And New Tipplers

Whiskey was long considered a man's drink. But as sales of whiskey soar, it's women who are leading the new boom, thanks to a vanguard of female distillers, blenders and tasters.
NPR

Transcript: President Obama's Full NPR Interview

Steve Inskeep's wide-ranging interview with President Obama covers recent executive actions on Cuba and immigration, race relations in the U.S., health care and extending democracy in the Middle East.
NPR

Die-In, Vortex, Selfie Stick: What's The Word Of 2014?

In January, members of the American Dialect Society will vote on the 2014 Word of the Year. Linguist Ben Zimmer runs through some contenders — including words both old and new.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.