Watching 'Real Housewives' Makes You a Bad Person, Literally

Reality TV aggression
Every time some terrible act of violence takes over the news, we scramble for something to blame. Was it the media's steadfast dedication to that old adage, "If it bleeds, it leads"? Was it video games that are rated M for Mature? What about violent TV shows and movies? Surely watching enough depictions of shootings and stabbings will encourage an unstable person to grab a real-life weapon at some point, right?

As it turns out, we've been ignoring one of the most pervasive trends in recent history. It's not violent TV dramas we should be worried about, it's reality television shows like Real Housewives. A new study says that watching reality TV that includes lots of what's called "relational aggression" — bullying, exclusion, and manipulation, AKA Ratings Gold — can actually make viewers behave ... well, like assholes.

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The study was conducted through Central Michigan University, with the lead author explaining,

We knew from past research that people who see relational aggression in media tend to become more aggressive. Gossiping and nastiness is prevalent on these shows, so we wanted to find out whether it affected how aggressive people were after they watched.

Each study participant watched one of three types of TV shows: an aggressive surveillance show like Jersey Shore or Real Housewives, a more positive show like Little People, Big World, or a fictional crime drama like CSI. After watching one episode, people were asked to do a separate task that measured aggression. They were told they were racing against someone in another room to hit a keyboard button as quickly as possible, and whoever won got to blast the other person with an obnoxiously loud noise.

The results? People who watched the aggressive reality shows got seriously aggressive with that button.

It turns out those who had watched Jersey Shore or Real Housewives actually gave louder, longer blasts after watching those shows than those who watched the more violent crime dramas.

This is different from taking the keyboard and cracking it over someone's skull, of course. But isn't it interesting -- and by "interesting" I mean "disturbing as hell" -- that watching that type of show can encourage someone to act like a passive-aggressive jackass afterward? Frankly, I'd like to see a study that evaluations connections between online trolling and bad-behavior reality shows. Is the person who continually leaves hostile comments all over the Internet also addicted to trashy TV shows filled with backstabbing, rumormongering, and name-calling?

Reality TV meanness has been linked to real-life aggression for a few years now (not to mention viewers' perception that the heightened theatrics represent real-life behavior), but TV-rating systems and media watchdog groups remain laser-focused on fictional shows. It may be that while everyone frets over whether the gunfights and bare-knuckle beatdowns on Sons of Anarchy are warping our minds, we're missing the real problem, which is wearing couture and gossiping about her castmate's cheating husband.

As the study author puts it,

Watching these kinds of shows and seeing people engage in this nasty behavior, people are more likely to think aggressive thoughts after seeing those things. And so then when they have an opportunity to apply those, they do.

What do you think about this study? Would you be more concerned about your kid watching reality shows or violent dramas?


Image via Bravo

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