Reality Television as Bad as Video Games for Aggression Levels

Written by Aaron Mitchell | Tuesday, 27 March 2012 17:53


My wife watches a lot of shows that involve wealthy people being incredibly petty, nasty and generally hideous to each other. She claims that as a social worker and psychology student the show is fascinating to her. Personally it causes me to bleed from my tear ducts.

So I’m unsurprised to learn from a recent study that Real Housewife type shows create an unconscious aggressive response almost identical to that produced by playing violent video games.

I’ve commented in the past on the fact that studies that prove watching violent shows, movies and playing violent games often have important details omitted when reported on by the media, such as the fact aggressive news stories and watching competitive sports raise aggression levels by the same amount. It’s also often not noted that the aggression levels are the same in adults as they are in children. Yet the, ‘Please save the children from violent games’, cry is a familiar media distillation of these studies.

A new study has revealed that watching shows that show people back talking, gossiping, being manipulative, interfering in peoples relationships, or basically any of the behaviour exhibited on a ‘Real Housewives of’ type show, can actually increase aggression levels in women equal to scenes of horror or violence.

A study published in the Journal Aggressive Behaviour described an experiment involving 250 college aged women who watched one of three fictional scenario videos. The first was a physically aggressive scene involving a weapon and ending in a murder. The second was a relational aggression scene where girls steal boyfriends, spread malicious gossip and kick someone out of their social circle, and the third was a scary scene designed to elevate heart rate.

Researchers measured physiological reaction and found all three scenes produced the same level of mental excitement. Next they measured reaction times when aggressive or neutral words flashed on a screen, a common psychological study method known as a Stroop test (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_Stroop_test). Participants who had watched the physical and relational aggressive scenes ascribed meaning to words connected with aggression.

It’s interesting to note that viewed relational aggression has an equitable psychological reaction to viewed physical aggression, at least among women. While we regulate scenes of physical aggression quite strictly, violent movies and games receive high age ratings and restrictions because of the perceived damaging impact of elevated levels of aggression, we certainly don’t regulate shows that demonstrate high levels of relational aggression unless they also involve sexual themes.

Buying games with a rating of MA 15+ in Australia requires a provision of proof of age for this reason. Meanwhile shows like Real Housewives and Gossip Girl are available on free to air television, usually with a rating of, at most PG for Parental Guidance. But the psychological evidence seems to indicate the aggression elevation levels are the same for both forms of media.

The obvious and unanswered question is, why do games get picked as the scapregoat?

Original article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120307145428.htm