The Influence of Reality TV

Why people watch it and its negative impacts on viewers’ behavior and mental health 

Reality+television+has+been+a+popular+form+of+entertainment+for+decades%2C+but+has+been+shown+to+cause+negative+effects+on+viewers%27+personality+and+mental+health.

Photo courtesy queensjournal.ca

Reality television has been a popular form of entertainment for decades, but has been shown to cause negative effects on viewers’ personality and mental health.

Clara Maultsby, Co-Editor-in-Chief/Columns Editor

The first reality show that aired on television was nothing like Keeping Up With The KardashiansThe Real Housewives or The Bachelor.  

According to washingtonpost.com, the first reality television show, An American Family, aired on PBS in 1973 from January to March. It featured an in-depth, dramatized look into a family paired with commentary on American society. Though the events in the family’s life are sensationalized, the show’s style is similar to a documentary 

Reality television has become increasingly exaggerated and staged. Entertainment Weekly’s Jake Perlman has raised concerns about the growing presence of physical violence in 2019 article.  

It seems that reality shows today have become more violent and central to a show’s plot line, making it a part of the story,” Perlman said. 

Psychology Today found that a main reason why people watch reality is to imagine gaining fame and status. They can live vicariously through the Kardashian-Jenner family’s extravagant lifestyle or imagine becoming famous for being on a show like Survivor or The Bachelor, which features ordinary people.  

However, regularly watching reality shows can negatively influence viewers’ behavior. In 2016, the Pacific Standard reported that researchers have found a link between the increasing narcissistic characteristics in recent generations to regularly viewing reality TVCentral Michigan University psychologist Bryson Gibson conducted an experiment in which 144 undergraduate students were surveyed about their favorite reality shows and then completed the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Gibson and his colleagues discovered that participants who frequently watched more narcissistic shows and identified strongly with the characters had higher narcissism scores. Gibson’s research team told the Pacific Standard that “exposure to narcissistic reality TV stars” can even influence the level of narcissism in some viewers. 

Reality TV can also prompt anxiety and depression centered around body image, as reported by The Guardian in 2019. A survey was released before the airing of a new season of Love Island, a British reality dating show (much of which shows the contestants lounging on beach resorts in revealing swimming attire). The Mental Health Foundation surveyed 4,505 adults, ages 18-24, and found that reality TV causes almost one in four people to worry about their body image. 

Rebekah Maguire (12) chooses not to watch reality shows because of the potential negative effects on one’s mental health.  

“I personally don’t watch it [reality television] because it actively shows people in their worst states (anger, pettiness, jealousy, etc.) and exploits those emotions for ratings and views. I think that watching people almost constantly being in their most negative states will have a negative impact on a person’s own psyche,” Maguire said. Even in times when they’re showing happy moments, it’s of these rich people living lives you will almost never attain and are trying to vicariously live through them, which is also negatively impacting.”