Watching Mean People On TV Might Turn You Into One

Feeling grouchy lately? Maybe you should lay off the Real Housewives.

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New research shows that that TV programs about backstabbing frenemies and wig-pulling fights (Real Housewives of Everywhere, we’re looking at you) can actually lead viewers to engage in some mean-girl behavior of their own.

Published in the journal Aggressive Behavior and highlighted by Science Daily, the study “’Frenemies, Fraitors, and Mean-em-aitors’: Priming effects of viewing physical and relational aggression in the media on women” was co-authored by psychology professors from Iowa State University. In the study, 250 college women were shown three video clips, each depicting a different type of aggression. The first clip was of physical aggression (violent fighting, murder), the second clip was relational aggression (gossip, backstabbing, exclusion from a social circle), and the third clip was just a scary scene.

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All three films produced physiological arousal, and that both the physical and relational aggressions caused aggressive scripts in the brain to activate. So watching a clip of two girls fighting over a boyfriend causes the same kind of reaction that watching a murderous scene would. This leads to a higher chance of engaging in aggressive behavior because the stimuli “primes” your brain for aggression. The authors say that relational aggression is essentially what cyberbullying is; the social exclusion created by de-friending someone on Facebook, spreading rumors, hateful Internet boards and forums, and Twitter beefs are all a type of relational aggression.

“Aggressive reactions are more automatic and less conscious that most people assume,” Jennifer Ruh Linder, professor of psychology at Linfield College and co-author of the study, told Science Daily. That means nobody deliberately decides to imitate a Real Housewife; the connection is more subtle and unintentional.

If you find yourself feeling more impatient and snappy after watching an episode of Gossip Girl or Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, now you know why. But don’t turn your dial to Whitney or 2 Broke Girls, either. One of the authors points out that even TV shows depicting friends putting each other down in the name of a joke has its effects, too.

So, anyone know of a show where everyone treats each other respectfully, don’t make jokes at someone’s expense, and no one secretly sabotages anyone?

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