Study: Mean Girls on Television Can Make Us Mean in Real Life


Scary tv photoAre you one of those people that just can’t help but scream back at the television? After a reality TV bender do you somehow feel worse about yourself? Well it’s not just you.

New research is showing that social aggression on television causes us to be more aggressive in real life. It’s been shown before that this was true of physical violence but a new study at Iowa State University has shown onscreen social exclusion, gossip, and emotional bullying can have a lasting impact on those that watch it, according to Science Daily

Oh Frenemies.... 

The study: Frenemies, Fraitors, and Mean-em-aitors: Priming Effects of Viewing Physical and Relational Aggression in the Media on Women, followed 250 college women. It analyzed their cognitive patterns after watching three television clips. The first clip showed physical violence, the second showed relational aggression in the form of boyfriend stealing and malicious gossip, and the third was just a scary event. 

Then the women we’re shown aggressive words on a screen. While the physiological arousal levels were all basically the same, the women that saw all three clips responded differently when they say aggressive words on the computer screen. 

"Past research has shown that viewing physical violence on TV activates aggressive scripts in the brain, but our findings suggest that watching both onscreen physical or relational aggression activates those cognitive scripts," said Jennifer Ruh Linder, a professor of psychology at Linfield College (Ore.) and study author.

"Viewers don't simply choose to imitate TV characters or make a conscious decision to engage in aggressive behavior. Aggressive reactions are more automatic and less conscious than most people assume,” Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State, and another author of the study said to Science Daily.

The study seemed to show that watching people treating each other badly on television caused unconscious behavior in the women that watched it. And I’m sure that men would have similarly aggressive behavior when they watched such clips, especially considering that men also behave very badly in a slew of reality shows, sitcoms, and political pundit shows that we see on television. 

Mean girls photo
Photo: Jupiterimages

Photo at top: Thinkstock

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Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.









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