Does reality TV affect people’s way of thinking, and if so, how? Are reality shows harmless, or does it affect people and change their perspective? Does reality TV have a detrimental effect on society and viewers’ mental health in undesired ways? Well, it isn’t exactly easy to attribute reality TV’s adverse effects on people as not all reality shows are bad. However, it does have some impact on its regular watchers.
Let’s take a deeper look into reality TV and its effects.
If you look at the research on the relationship between reality TV, mental health, and societal behavior, the connections are really unclear. However, toxic and aggressive reality shows like The Real Housewives franchise, Jersey Shore, or Toddlers & Tiaras can cause an increase in narcissism, manipulation, and aggression in its viewers.
Influence on Younger People
What’s more concerning is the fact that most reality tv is targeted towards young adults and children. The effect of anything, especially entertainment, is felt much stronger in children and young adults. Young adults and children find it much more challenging to separate entertainment from reality. This means the effects of reality shows are much more apparent in this age demographic.
Reality TV shows that promote aggression, violence, dysfunctional and flawed relationships, and inappropriate behavior, in general, can be highly damaging to our youth. And with the largest demographic of television viewership being young adults, the effects of reality shows can be especially negative.
Reality TV’s Effects on Body Anxiety
Reality TV such as Love Island and The Bachelor are significant sources of body anxiety and body dysmorphia in people nowadays. The Mental Health Foundation found that one out of four reality shows causes viewers to worry about their own body image and go through anxiety about looking a certain way.
We all think we don’t really compare ourselves to people on TV, but we do. Teenagers and young adults especially feel shame in their bodies when they compare themselves to people on reality TV shows. This can lead to issues like body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and further emotional difficulties.
Reality TV and Narcissism
Shows like The Real Housewives, Keeping up with the Kardashians, and The Bachelor all lead to narcissistic tendencies in viewers.
In a study conducted by Central Michigan University, psychologist Bryson Gibson surveyed undergraduate students about the reality shows they watch and what characters they identified with the most. He then made the students complete a Narcissistic Personality Inventory. The results showed that students who watched narcissistic shows and identified with narcissistic characters had higher narcissism scores on their tests.
This could just mean already narcissistic people tend to watch more reality shows, or it could mean narcissistic reality TV lead to an increase in narcissistic tendencies in their viewers. Or maybe long-term exposure to narcissistic characters and shows intensifies the viewers? Research on this topic is still scarce, so we can’t conclude a definitive statement.
It’s Not Really Reality
Reality TV is not honest. It tends to promote the worst qualities in people while disguising them as entertainment. People mostly watch reality shows to escape their own reality as real-life can be mundane and boring. It’s a chance to live vicariously through other interesting people. People enjoy the famous, rich, and good-looking ‘characters,’ who are usually just that, characters.