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Aggressive Reality Television: Impacts on Teenage Viewers

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sciences
Wordcount: 2075 words Published: 23rd Apr 2018

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  • Nashun Gross


The popularity of reality TV has soared among teens. Not only are teenagers watching reality TV more than any other TV show, but it also influences their behavior, which is caused by teenagers who make a connection with the cast members. Connections happen when teens imitate the behavior because they view the cast as role models. Even when the cast behaves aggressive, whether physical, verbal, or relational, they tend to imitate that behavior. The more teenagers view aggression on reality TV, the more they are likely to use aggression as a tactic when solving real world problems. Aggression influences both girls and boys. When boys watch aggressive behavior, they tend to resort to verbal and physical aggression. Girls predominately react by using relational aggression. When aggressive reality television becomes the norm, social aggression will too.

Aggressive Reality Television Impacts Teenage Viewers

Although there have not been many studies on the effects of reality television there is an underlying issue researchers have found in reality television programming, relational aggression. Carlson & Ward (2013) described relational aggression as social aggression, which includes indirect aggression, spreading rumors of one’s character and hurting someone’s reputation or self-esteem. In today’s programming reality television has more relational aggressive acts than regular television programming (Patino, Kaltcheva, & Smith, 2011). Surprisingly, researchers found relational aggression more common than physical aggression in the media, specifically, in reality television (Carlson & Ward, 2013). However, teenagers exposed to physical aggression and relational aggression had the same effects. In other words, exposure to any type of aggressive behavior, physical or relational, led to aggressive responses and reactions in both male and female teenagers.

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Teenager’s response to media proved to have both short-term and long-term effects (Swartzwelder & White, 2013). In the short term, marketing and advertising showed significant results in sales after product was shown during a reality program (Patino et al, 2011).In the long-term, affects have been shown as late as 15 years increase (Coyne, Robinson, & Nelson, 2010). Specifically, when teenagers connected with characters on television they were more likely to watch for longer periods of time. With ideas of how to react to real life situations left in the mind of a teenager could shape how they view the world (Patino et al, 2011).

Since the first reality show aired in 1994, reality television has become the choice of media for teens in the U.S. Year-by-year viewer’s ratings continue to increase (Coyne et al, 2010; Carlson & Ward, 2013) with forty percent of television watched by teenagers coming from reality shows (Carlson & Ward, 2013). It is a popular media. Within this new genre, verbal and relational aggression is rampant (Carlson & Ward, 2013; Coyne et al, 2010). Reality programming displayed 25.1 relational aggressive acts per hour, while non-reality TV displayed 8.7 acts per hour (Carlson & Ward, 2013).When all forms of aggression were combined, verbal, relational, direct and indirect, it averaged 85 aggressive acts per hour (Coyne et al, 2010). When teenagers viewed relational aggression it led to other forms of aggression, especially when teenagers identified or connected with the characters (Coyne et al, 2010).

Teenagers showed higher levels of aggressive behavior (Coyne et al, 2010), when they made a connection with the characters (Carlson & Ward, 2013) and had the ability to interact or participate in the reality shows, such as voting off characters or choosing the best to win. Studies found realism played a huge role in the effects of reality television. If teens thought reality TV was real, not manipulated by producers to create drama, they were inclined to watch more reality programs (Carlson & Ward, 2013). Despite the manipulation, studies still found teenagers drawn to watch reality TV because it satisfied a need (Coyne et al, 2010; Ferguson, Salmond, & Modi, 2013).

One study found conflicting results. An internal survey given by the Girl Scout Research Institute took a non-random sample of 1141 teenage girls (Ferguson et al, 2013). By using the uses and gratifications approach in an online questionnaire, girls were more confident after they watched reality programming and displayed no affects of relational aggression (Ferguson et al, 2013). Researchers thought relational aggression should not be a concern to the public and found the effects may be more “subtle and complex” (Ferguson et al, 2013).

Researchers studied teenager’s motivations in watching reality television, while questioning their values. Teens were motivated when programs displayed realism, physically attractive characters, and popular among friends, (Pantino, Kaltcheva, & Smith, 2011). The uses and gratifications approach was useful to find out why teens chose reality TV rather than non-reality TV. Researchers concluded they desired voyeurism, connection with characters and vengeance (Coyne et al, 2013). Teenagers also learned to mimic the behavior portrayed by those who they look up to, who they connected to in reality television.

As teenagers consumed more reality programming, with aggression in its midst, they found teens had more aggressive behavior. Consumption is related to behavioral effects (Carlson & Ward, 2013), but what has not been discovered is the quantity of social aggression in reality television and its related effects (Coyne et al, 2013).

Majority of researchers came to the same conclusion, reality television affects both male and female. When researchers compared the effects between girls and boys, they found no differences (Carlson & Ward, 2013). Concerning relational aggression, girls showed more aggression than boys, while boys displayed more physical aggression than the girls (Coyne et al, 2013). With miniscule differences, boys are more physically aggressive and girls tend to have a saucy mouth.

As a whole, the results indicate a current trend in teenagers, specifically with watching reality television. Teenagers tend to have changes in their attitudes and behaviors similar to the ones they watch regularly on reality television. In addition, studies have shown it takes just a few hours of exposure to display negative effects (Coyne et al, 2013; White &, Swartzwelder 2013). These literature reviews revealed aggression had the same effects on boys than on girls. However, for future research understanding the associations between teenagers and realism on TV is important because it could help in assessing the severity of relational aggression among teenagers.

Hypothesis 1: Teenagers who see abusive behavior, such as hitting, kicking or pushing others, in reality television programs, will have an increase in aggressive behavior, with boys experiencing a greater increase than girls.

Hypothesis 2: Teenagers who see aggressive behavior, such as spreading rumors or damaging someone’s reputation or self-esteem, in reality television programs, will have an increase in relational aggressive behavior, with girls experiencing a greater increase than boys.



Participants are 60 students from a middle school located in suburban Jacksonville, Fl. Half of the students are male, the other half female. The ages range from 11-14 years. As a random sample, there will be no consideration on race. However, the sample size is divided up by each grade, meaning 20 students from the sixth grade, 20 students from the seventh grade, and 20 students from the eighth grade.


Exposure to reality programs then observed . Students would watch a 30-minute top-rated program once a week in class. Programs shown will have social aggressive behavior throughout, such as The Challenge: Cutthroat, Jersey Shore and Survivor (Carlson & Ward, 2013). Then an observer would watch their behavior and report the results.


Students are invited to participate on a voluntary basis with their parent’s permission. After a few weeks of getting the permission of the parents, an observer would visit each classroom and show a reality program on video. The program would run for 30-minutes, then shortly afterwards the student’s behavior would be observed for additional 30-minutes. The total time needed is approximately one hour per classroom visitation. The observer will fill out a Likert Scale before and after the reality show is played (Appendix A) to show the differences of behavior.


Carlson, C. &Ward, M.L., (2013). Modeling meanness: Associations between reality TV consumption, perceived realism, and adolescents’ social aggression. Media Psychology, 16 (4), 371-389. doi:10.1080/15213269.2013.832627

Coyne, S. M., Robinson, S. L., & Nelson, D. A. (2010). Does reality backbite? Physical, verbal, and relational aggression in reality television programs. Journal Of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 54(2), 282-298. doi:10.1080/08838151003737931

Examples of likert scaled responses used in data-gathering. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rpgroup.org/sites/default/files/Surveys Interactive Activity –%20Examples%20of%20Likert%20scales.pdf

Ferguson, C., Salmond, K., & Modi, K. (n.d.). Reality television predicts both positive and negative outcomes for adolescent girls. Journal of Pediatrics, 162(6), 1175-1180.

Patino, A., Kaltcheva, V. D., & Smith, M. F. (2011). The Appeal of Reality Television For Teen and Pre-Teen Audiences. Journal Of Advertising Research, 51(1), 288-297.

White, A.M., & Swartzwelder, S. (2013). What are they thinking?!: The straight facts about the risk-taking, social-networking, still-developing teen brain. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Appendix A


Very Frequently





  1. How often did girls mistreat other girls by giving dirty looks?
  1. How often did girls mistreat other boys by giving dirty looks?
  1. How often did boys mistreat other boys by giving dirty looks?
  1. How often did boys mistreat other girls by giving dirty looks?
  1. How often did girls use physical aggression as a means of retaliation?
  1. How often did boys use physical aggression as a means of retaliation?
  1. How often did girls yell when peers aggravated them?
  1. How often did boys yell when peers aggravated them?
  1. How often did boys aggravate their peers?
  1. How often did girls aggravate their peers?

(“Examples of likert scaled responses used in data gathering,” n.d.)


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