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Television Viewing May Skew Health Perceptions

Television Viewing May Skew Health PerceptionsA new study finds watching medical content on television may lead to misinformed beliefs regarding personal health.

University of Rhode Island researchers discovered a high dose of medical drama and news can lead individuals to be overly concerned with personal health and may reduce a person’s satisfaction with life.

The study, authored by Yinjiao Ye, assistant professor of communications studies found that TV viewing affects young adult’s awareness of health risks and whether they believe they can protect their own health.

People develop these perceptions because TV viewing leads them to believe they have a greater likelihood of being victimized by health risks as well as a strong belief in the severity of those risks.

Millions watch medical shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “House,” and “E.R.” Evidence has shown that the mass media are powerful in disseminating health knowledge and changing health attitudes and behaviors through such programming.

Such knowledge, however, may lead people to think they are more likely to suffer from the maladies presented on TV.

Given that people are predisposed to seek life satisfaction and the benefits of life satisfaction on health and longevity, high doses of television viewing may prevent people from achieving that goal.

Of course, life dissatisfaction may be a reason why people watch television to start with, but television is not the best solution according to this and other studies. Other leisure activities such as socializing and exercise may actually be better options.

Since most people learn important information about health risks from the mass media, there is clearly a double-edged sword effect at work here. As people become more knowledgeable, they enjoy life less.

But ignorance, at least of TV’s presentations of medical information, is closer to bliss.

These findings extend previous research that TV viewing can also cause people to be less satisfied with their lives because it makes them more materialistic and causes them to overestimate other people’s possessions compared to their own.

Now getting sick and not being able to do much about it can be added as a second cause of life dissatisfaction.

In her study, the URI professor surveyed 274 students in the College of Communications at the University of Alabama about their TV viewing and life satisfaction. The students were not told the purpose of the survey.

The surveyed students ranged in age from 18 to 31, a youthful group associated with good health and vitality.

“While this surveyed group shows dissatisfaction, I suspect that if I surveyed a more general population the dissatisfaction would be even higher,” says the researcher.

Since the study was conducted solely on a small group of students at a single university, it is unclear whether the results of this study would be generalizable to the overall population. So the study’s results must be considered tentative at this time, until confirmed by a larger and more diverse future study.

The research was published in the journal Mass Communication and Society.

Source: University of Rhode Island

Television Viewing May Skew Health Perceptions

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Television Viewing May Skew Health Perceptions. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 1 Oct 2010)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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