Reality Show Trends and Real-Life Influence


Millions of people around the world tune in to reality shows and have been watching for decades. What started out as an experiment has turned into mainstream programming and as a culture, we can’t get enough of it.

Is there any personal or societal cost to our ongoing fascination with reality shows? While opinions certainly differ on the topic, it comes down to a few factors:

  • The malleability of your values
  • Your commitment to behaving in ways that reflect your values

Television and all other forms of media have an impact on our thoughts, opinions, and behaviors. There is no doubt that what we take in for entertainment and information influences the way we think about the world around us. Our minds are designed to synthesize boatloads of information every day, from our interactions with others to the books we read and entertainment we seek out. We make sense of the world through these pieces of information we gather, and this impacts how we live our lives every day.

Beyond the daily information we absorb, we are also influenced by our prior life experiences, our family of origin, the environment we are raised in and a slew of other cultural and genetic factors. These interpersonal and direct influences are more likely to impact our values and behaviors than reality shows. Does this mean that we should be unconcerned about the ways in which reality show trends impact us? No, we definitely need to pay attention to the underlying messages in these shows and explore why they appeal to us so much.

Why Do Reality Shows Reel Us In?

Reality shows keep us coming back, week after week. We want to know who said what to whom, which person betrayed another or who compromised their alliances or made a shady decision that influenced other people. It’s all about the best and worst of human behavior; it is an observational psychology class without the lecture or exams.

Often reality shows cause us to reflect on what we might do in a similar situation, which can be a good exercise in values exploration. The basic question of self-interest versus self-sacrifice is a theme that runs through most reality shows. These themes of good and bad behaviors, betrayal, competition, and connection are familiar to us; we make similar decisions every day, minus the cameras, artificial scenarios, and publicity. It calls to us because on a very basic level, we love human drama, and we relate to tough decisions. Whether it is a competition for love, money, fame, or notoriety, we enjoy watching the struggle. When we root for our favorite reality show participant, we are identifying something compelling within them, and this may say a lot about us if we choose to explore it. As we indulge in our favorite reality shows, we can ask ourselves:

  • What do I enjoy about this show and what emotions does it elicit?
  • What appeals to me about these characters and their role in the show?
  • Would I make different choices than these characters? If so, why?
  • What values do I embrace in my life that are either abided by or abandoned in this show?

Reality shows are ironically named because they are often far from realistic scenarios. Even though these programs are guilty pleasures for so many, we can use them as good conversation starters with friends and as food for thought within our own minds as we consider our values and how to live in ways that demonstrate those values.



Living with Finesse By Dr. Teyhou Smyth

Dr. Teyhou Smyth is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (#115137) and an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the Graduate School of Education & Psychology.