Usually, when I think of reality TV, I think of self-absorbed, narcissistic attention whores.
You know, the people who tend appear on the shows.
But there’s another reason to think of self-absorbed, narcissistic people when it comes to reality TV: the people who actually watch these shows. I’m looking at you, people who watch The Bachelor and have managed to sit through more than three episodes of the Real Housewives of Melbourne. (Three was my limit so I am assuming I’m therefore not a narcissist).
A study led by a group of researchers from Ohio State University found that people with a preference for reality-based programming are likely to be vain, entitled, and have a heightened sense of their own self-importance.
The researchers asked a group of 565 university students, with an average age of 20, to keep track of the genres of programs they watched, including drama, sports, news, current affairs and reality.
They were asked questions about the overall amount of TV they watched, and asked questions to rate themselves on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.
The study was published in the journal, Psychology of Popular Media Culture, and also found that there was a link between higher narcissism levels and watching sports and political talk shows.
Writing in the journal, researchers Robert Lull and Ted Dickinson said:
“Our research suggests that those messages may, in turn, be cultivating narcissism in society.” they wrote.
“Many of the messages to which we are exposed on the TV today feature rampant self-interest, disregard of others’ well-being, and a focus on the individual—which are all components of narcissism.”
However, the researchers couldn’t determine whether reality TV was actually encouraging narcissistic behaviour, or whether narcissists were naturally drawn to these shows, like moths to a flame.
A 2006 study found that celebrities are more narcissistic than the general population, but reality stars were the most narcissistic of al celebs, with their high levels of self-regard showcased on the TV shows they appear on.
Lull and Dickinson wrote: “The beginning of the modern era of reality TV is loosely traced to around the year 2000, when shows like Survivor and American Idol began.”
“Reality programs proliferated during the formative years of our typical (20- or 21-year-old) participants,” they added.
They note that these shows might have had a persistent influence on young people over many years.
You’re less likely to be a narcissist if you dig watching news broadcasts, according to the research. News consumers tend to be “more civically engaged” and therefore more focused on their community than themselves.
So if you’re Keeping Up With the Kardashians more than you’re keeping up with world affairs, you might be a big old narcissist.