10 Reasons Reality TV is Ruining Everything

Phillip wins Idol. Snooki births a baby. The housewives are drinking wine. The trend of reality television stretches back to 1940’s prank-shows.  Today, however, researchers believe that exposure to reality television may be toxic. Here are 10 discussions of scientific studies showing why Honey Boo Boo Child may be destroying you from the inside out.

#1 – Misinformation, ya’ll!

Reality television is a medium for information that may or may not be accurate. One study, for instance, showed that Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab program might perpetuate negative stereotypes about drug addiction treatments, therefore making ‘regular’ people less likely to seek their own treatment.

#2 – Racial stereotypes. Not cool, naw mean?

We’ve come a long way, but reality TV might be slowing progress in racial equality. For instance, of the 10 programs analyzed in a 2011 study, each had a character that fit an African American stereotype. This shouldn’t come as a surprise—producers and directors are faced with the responsibility of editing tons of footage into small episodes for our enjoyment. Whereas it’s impossible to fully understand someone when missing potentially critical information, if someone fits a stereotype, we can automatically fill in the missing pieces, only with potentially inaccurate information.

[Related: Conservatives Equate Obama to Darth Vader… or Something]

#3 – Plastic surgery, for everyone!

Researchers are going beyond correlations, showing that exposure to this content actually causes change within us. In one experiment, people who were shown a reality program about cosmetic surgery were more likely to report a desire to have their own surgical alterations compared to those who watched a control video. Does this mean that watching Hoarders makes people want to store dead cats under their couch?

#4 – Skinny = PHAT

A recent study showed that viewing reality-based competitions (e.g., The X-Factor, So You Think You Can Dance) might lead to body dissatisfaction and a desire to be thin. Here’s lookin’ at you, America’s Next Top Model!

#5 – People on TV are really, really, ridiculously good looking.

Casting directors don’t typically hire unattractive people. After being constantly bombarded by images of beautiful, in shape, and healthy people, us viewers start to look down upon the characters in our actual lives. Studies have shown, for example, that men who view images of attractive women report being less in love with their wives! Gentlemen, this is a great excuse next time your girlfriend asks you to watch the Bachelor instead of the game. “Sorry, honey, I’d like to watch this show, but I really want to make sure I stay in love with you.”

[Related: You are Beautiful (Compared to Her)] 

#6 – Say goodbye to trust.

No more asking the neighbor for a cup of sugar. Many reality television shows include, and perhaps require, the direct manipulation of other people. As a result, exposure to these programs might make us more likely to perceive others as untrustworthy liars.

#7 – Safety information is frequently overlooked because… watch out!

This one is boring, but potentially important. “[Reality TV] shows provide information about home or family life… [yet] few role models are shown offering information or examples of safe practices,” said one researcher.  It’s hard to blame the producers of these shows; the entertainment value probably plummets when a character on TV discusses the danger of starting forest fires or carefully explains the steps involved in CPR before enjoying a day at the beach.

#8 – It’s getting worse.

The amount of antisocial behavior on television is significantly higher today than it was even just 10 years ago. Survivor, for example, shows an average of 45.7 acts of antisocial behavior per hour. That’s a lot of antisocial behavior. Antisocial behavior.

#9 – We think we’re invincible. 

According to research, we falsely believe reality TV affects others more than it affects us… So, you can think of Top Chef as more of a silent killer.

#10 – Romance is on the air.

Whereas many report learning about sex, dating, and relationships from reality TV, people who watch these programs are also more likely to perceive love as a game. According to psychologists, viewers of reality dating programs may be more likely to take a superficial and “male-chauvinistic” perspective on dating.



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About the Author

has a Ph.D. in Psychology and enjoys writing in the third person.

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