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Why You Watch Reality TV and Why Others Don't

If you were among the millions who rejoiced when Omarosa was kicked out of the Celebrity Big Brother house, robbed of a spot in the show's coveted final four, or were shocked over the antics of Arie Luyendyk Jr. during the finale of The Bachelor, chances are that you're a huge fan of reality TV.

Which leads to the obvious question, usually posed by followers who prefer more scripted dramas: Why?

Apparently, modern psychology is also as obsessed over the notion almost as much as fawning audiences who'd rather die than miss an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. And like those shows, which don't offer much in terms of nutritional food for thought, the science so far is just as skimpy. However, what is revealing seems worth looking into, such as how much reality TV has dominated the social landscape to the point that even the most ardent PBS support can no longer avoid it.

For openers, its no coincidence that Donald Trump became president in 2016 and had a great deal of success hosting the unscripted NBC series The Apprentice for several seasons, starting 12 years before. One research group tested 239 adults in front of the tube, using up to 16 different motivators as drivers for what they watched.

When remote thumbs clicked on channels showing reality fare, scholars assessed that the need for self-importance and elevated status was the prime motivator for watching such content. In other words, viewers who want fame but would rather fantasize about having it than work their way up the ladder were more drawn to reality TV than other genres, especially if celebrities were involved. Using that context, the more you related to the world of someone like Trump, the greater the likelihood of living your life vicariously through the celeb, and even voting for him.

Other psychologists were more drawn by the voyeuristic element of reality TV's allure. California researcher Zhanna Bagdasarov, whose results in her tome, I Am What I Watch, ranks among the more popular papers on the subject. Instead of motivators, Bagdasarov used personalities as prime variables in her findings.

She discovered those with personalities that leaned towards more voyeuristic behavior were far more attracted to unscripted programming, especially shows about regular Joes and Janes who were in a unique televised situation such as Big Brother (the non-celebrity version) and The Bachelor. Because they came across as more average than celeb types, voyeuristic viewers related to those participants more.

Interestingly, the studies didn't take demographics like age and gender into account as much as traits, admitted some of the researchers. They all hinted that more study into audience preference for reality TV is needed.

Just what we all need...

 

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