The Powerful Effects of Reality Television

We become concerned with societal regulations from a very young age and rely on mainstream media, such as television, to serve as major aids in our development and socialization. Reality television is increasingly becoming a part of this socialization process, and it’s a factor that has the potential to be very harmful.


I must admit that my guilty pleasure is watching Bravo’s The Real Housewives, but when I watch these shows and other reality television series, I am aware that this is not “reality,” but that it is a constructed and carefully edited program, like most other forms of entertainment. This is not raw or unfiltered as reality is, but it is actually quite the opposite, and the portrayals of the women on reality television shows are about as “real” as their manufactured breasts. For me, it’s an escape, a fantasy, but there are some that suggest that it is becoming more and more a part of our reality because it has such an established place in our culture.

When Did Reality Become TV?

Dr. Romeo Vitelli states that a large portion of television consumers watch at least one reality television show faithfully. Some know that the people portrayed on these shows are a “train wreck,” while others seem to be developing a sense that the behaviors and lifestyles that these shows highlight are normal and even desirable. Tom Jacobs suggests that the behaviors highlighted in shows like The Real Housewives, namely the hostility, the luxury, and the heightened sexuality of these women on TV could be seen more and more by heavy viewers as a societal norm, and that viewers could be more likely to engage in these behaviors.

The theories surrounding reality television viewing and the effects on behavior are similar to those that are expressed about children and television violence – some are thought to live vicariously through these characters and so the behaviors do not develop, others think that the increased focus on this false reality is having an effect on what these viewers perceive as “normal.”

Keep it Real

Karyn Riddle thinks that much more research is still required to effectively determine exactly what kinds of effects reality television is having on society, but in the meantime it is important for us to bear in mind that these are, in fact, constructed realities. There is nothing real about reality television, and the more we are able to remember that, the more we as audiences can view it without being fearful of the aggression and deception becoming part of our own reality.



Psychology Today

Pacific Standard