A new Brigham Young University study suggests television reality shows present a new level of aggression to vast audiences.
Unfortunately, research suggest the meanness can rub off on viewers despite spectators’ belief that merely observing the actions will not change their behavior.
Investigators discovered the amount of gossip, insults and dirty looks viewed on popular reality shows far outpace the level seen in equally popular dramas, comedies and soap operas.
The researchers looked at five reality shows and five non-reality shows and found 52 acts of aggression per hour on reality TV compared to 33 per hour for the non-reality programs.
“The Apprentice” topped the list at 85 acts of verbal or relational aggression per hour.
Simon Cowell and “American Idol” checked in a little lower at 57 aggressive acts per hour – but then again, backbiting is tough to do while singing.
“I knew the level of aggression was going to be high, but I had no idea it was going to be this high,” said Sarah Coyne, a BYU professor of family life and lead author of the study.
Coyne’s findings will appear in the June issue of The Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media.
The researchers analyzed 120 hours of programming and coded every instance of physical, verbal and relational aggression. The 10 shows selected for the study are popular with audiences in Britain, although several shows are American productions.
And despite the “reality” label, half of the aggression appeared to be incited by producers. One common tactic is to put participants in a booth and bait them into saying something nasty about their competitors.
Numerous other studies, including one by Coyne, demonstrate that meanness rubs off on viewers. And that was using very contrived and clearly fictional scenes.
“Of any type of program out there, I would think that reality programs are the most likely to be imitated,” Coyne said.
“All audiences think it won’t affect them, but we aren’t as immune as we think we are.”
Source: Brigham Young University