Mean girls? U.S. study casts light on reality TV’s impact
WASHINGTON (AFP) ― Girls who regularly watch reality television expect ― and accept ― more bullying and drama in their lives, a just-released study in the United States suggested.
They also assign more value to physical appearances, and view themselves as leaders and role models, according to the nationwide survey by the research wing of the Girl Scouts of the United States.
Some 1,141 girls aged 11 through 17 took part in the survey conducted in April that offers a snapshot of the impact reality TV might be having on youngsters as they go through adolescence.
“We had no idea what we were going to find,” Kimberlee Salmond, senior researcher at the Girl Scout Research Institute, told AFP in an telephone interview from New York on Friday.
“We were kind of surprised to find such a huge difference between girls who regularly consume reality TV and those who don’t,” she said. “And in general, most girls actually think that reality TV is real and unscripted television.”
The genre is as old as the medium itself, starting life in the form of game shows, but it has exploded worldwide in the past decade thanks to the rapid growth of cable and satellite channels.
It’s also cheaper to produce than scripted programming ― and it travels well, with such European franchises as “Big Brother” from the Netherlands and “Strictly Come Dancing” from Britain exported to all continents.
In the United States, watching television ― of any kind ― remains “the number one activity” for American girls, taking up about 12 hours of their time every week, Salmond said.
“It far outpaces time spent on homework, friends or social networking sites, or completing extracurricular work,” she added.
Out of all girls surveyed, and Salmond said the sample was representative of American society, about half are regular reality TV viewers ― and their outlook on life differed from that of their peers who prefer other programming.
Seventy-eight percent of the reality TV watchers, for instance, were more likely to agree that gossiping was normal in relationships between girls, compared with 54 percent who did not among the rest of the girls surveyed.
Sixty-eight percent thought it was in girls’ nature to be catty and competitive, compared with 50 percent of the non-reality viewers, and 63 percent found it tough to trust other girls, compared with 50 percent.
Reality TV fans were also more likely to believe that girls must compete for a boy’s attention, that dating and boyfriends makes them happier, to spend a lot of time on their appearance and to attribute a girl’s value to her looks.
They were more likely, too, to believe that you have to lie to get what you want (37 percent versus 24 percent), that meanness gets you more respect (37 percent versus 25 percent) and that you have to be mean to others to get what you want (28 percent versus 18 percent).
That said, the majority of girls watching reality TV saw themselves to be mature, smart, funny and outgoing, the study suggested. They were also more inclined to aspire to leadership and to see themselves as role models.
What’s more, 65 percent said reality TV had exposed them to new ideas and perspectives. Slightly smaller percentages credited such shows for raising their awareness of social issues or teaching them new things.
Salmond, whose team has previously studied the impact of fashion and social networking on girls, said the survey uncovered a preference among American girls for competition and makeover shows, such as “American Idol” and “The Biggest Loser” (a weight-loss contest) respectively.
Less appealing were so-called “real life” shows such as “Jersey Shore,” which follows a posse of distinctly unrefined young adults, and ― interestingly ― dating shows such as “The Bachelor.”