Do you like reality TV? Then you may be a narcissist: People who watch a lot of the shows tend to be vain and self-absorbed
- Regular reality TV show viewers found to have higher narcissism scores
- Those who preferred watching news programmes had lower scores
- Scientists say reality TV may encourage vain and self-absorbed behaviour
- But the shows may also naturally draw viewers who are more narcissistic
From The Apprentice and Celebrity Big Brother to Real Housewives and at Keeping up with the Kardashians, there are no shortage of reality TV shows on our screens.
But those who watch a lot of the this sort of television entertainment are more likely to be vain and self-absorbed, a study suggests.
Researchers who analysed the personalities and viewing habits of nearly 600 men and women found that a preference for watching reality TV was linked to a higher level of narcissism.
However, the researchers said they were unable to prove whether reality TV was actually encouraging narcissistic behaviour, or whether narcissists were naturally drawn to these shows.
Researcher Ted Dickinson from Ohio State University said: 'I suspect the truth is probably somewhere in the middle - some people with narcissistic tendencies are seeking out media characters similar to themselves, whereas others who watch reality TV see narcissism as normalized behaviour and begin acting more narcissistic.'
...BUT WATCHING REALITY TV CAN ALSO MAKE YOU NICER
It has been called cruel, exploitative and trashy – but watching reality TV may make you a nicer person.
Reality shows such as Big Brother and I'm a Celebrity develop our ability to feel 'vicarious embarrassment' for others, activating the parts of the brain that make us more empathetic, according to a recent study.
Those who watch reality TV are able to 'put themselves in another person's shoes' more easily.
Using brain-imaging, researchers at the University of Bonn, Germany, found high levels of activity in the four areas of the brain which deal with empathy, compassion, the suppression of ego, and social codes and rules.
The researchers analysed 30 participants who had just watched clips of people humiliating themselves.
Among that group there was also raised activity in the right supramarginal gyrus, which deals with suppressing our ego, and the inferior frontal gyrus, which is linked to compassion.
Other parts of the brain which showed higher activity dealt with social codes and rules, which made sense as the reality TV shows often push contestants beyond the bounds of acceptability.
It’s been called cruel, exploitative and trashy – but watching reality TV like I'm A Celebrity (above) makes you a nicer person, a study has found
For the study, which was published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, the researchers asked 565 university students to report, on a scale, how often they watched different TV genres.
They assessed 15 different genres - action-adventure, comedy, crime dramas, documentaries, dramas, information entertainment, game shows, news broadcasts, political shows, reality shows, soap operas, sports, thrillers/horrors, daytime talk shows and late-night talk shows.
The participants were also asked questions about the amount of time they spent watching television overall, before completing the standard Narcissistic Personality Inventory – a 40-item questionnaire used by psychologists to measure subclinical narcissism.
Each participant had to choose between pairs of statements such as 'I find it easy to manipulate people' or 'I don't like it when I find myself manipulating people'.
The number of choices indicating narcissism were then added up to give an NPI score for each individual.
Narcissism tends to manifest as a grandiose sense of self-importance, sense of entitlement and uniqueness, lack of empathy, tendency to exploit others and a strong preoccupation with fame and success.
Those who reported higher levels of daily TV exposure scored higher on the NPI, as did those who watched more reality shows, the researchers found
Those who watched more sporting events, thrillers and political talk shows tended to be more narcissistic as well, while those who watched more news were much less so.
However, those who preferred news programmes tended to score relatively low on the narcissism scale.
'Interestingly, preference for news was negatively related to narcissism,' the researchers wrote.
'One possible explanation for this finding is that individuals who pay attention to the news are also more civically engaged and less individualistic,' they added, citing the results of previous studies by the University of Antwerp and the University of Pennsylvania.
The current study involved participants with an average age of 20 and Dr Dickinson cautioned that it is possible that a sample of older people would yield different results.
'Most narcissism research on a broader age range finds that age and narcissism are negatively related - ie older people tend to be less narcissistic than younger people,' he said.
'There is also evidence suggesting that younger people are more likely to watch reality TV, and that they prefer the 'lifestyle-based' shows whereas older reality TV viewers prefer competition-based shows.
'Our study did not look at these two types of reality TV separately, so we would obviously love to see this research extended into a larger age range with finer delineations between types of reality television.'