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Reality Dating Shows

The messages being sent by programming depicting “real” relationships.

Key points

  • Researchers have found that those who viewed reality dating programs had more traditional attitudes toward dating and relationships.
  • It is possible that those who hold more gender stereotypical views of sex and dating are those who are more likely to seek out reality dating TV.
  • A limitation to their work involves the direction of the relationship between reality dating show viewership and attitudes.
Courtesy of Pixabay, Dana Tentis
Source: Courtesy of Pixabay, Dana Tentis

It seems like every time I turn on the TV. There is a new reality dating or relationship show. Some of these shows claim to have the express goal of helping people find partners, whereas others appear to just dump singles on an island for no other purpose than to allow the viewers to live out some sort of voyeuristic fantasy.

Many of the shows, while claiming to show real people in real relationships, display gender-stereotypical behaviors, as well as overtly sexualized depictions of relationship behavior. With the increase in this type of programming, it is important to examine how shows focusing on dating and relationships affect our attitudes and behaviors.

The Research

Research by Zurbriggen and Morgan (2006) examined 249 undergraduate students between 18 and 24 (67 percent female). The researchers collected information on the participants’ demographics, sexual behaviors, attitudes toward dating, relationships, and sex, as well as their TV viewing behaviors and involvement with reality dating programs (RDPs).

Stronger relationships were shown between reality dating viewing and attitudes than between overall television viewing and attitudes, demonstrating that reality dating programs are influential. Specifically, the researchers found that those who viewed reality dating programs had more traditional attitudes toward dating and relationships.

In addition, Zurbriggen and Morgan (2006) found that the total amount of time spent watching reality dating shows was related to adversarial sexual beliefs, the endorsement of a double standard when it comes to sex, and the belief that men are sex-driven, and that appearance is important in dating.

However, it is important to note that the correlations were mediated through viewer involvement, meaning that if a person was more involved with the show (i.e., could relate to the characters, was watching the shows to learn from them, etc.), they would be more likely to be affected by the program.

While the researchers of this study didn’t find gender differences in terms of the relationship between viewership and attitudes, they found that men used the shows to learn about dating more than women. The authors noted the need to study other genres of programming to see if this relationship still holds true for programming that may not be as captivating to male viewers.

A major limitation to their work involves the direction of the relationship between reality dating show viewership and attitudes. Those who hold more gender stereotypical views of sex and dating may be those who are more likely to seek out this type of programming in the first place.

Final Thoughts

Being that the research demonstrated that people are influenced by the programs they watch, it is important to be aware of what is being depicted in the media. People may model what they watch and may seek out reality dating shows to get information about dating and relationships.

These programs, which are supposedly reality, can perpetuate harmful stereotypes and model problematic behavior. Therefore, is important to look into ways to depict healthy relationships.

References

Zurbriggen, E. L., & Morgan, E. M. (2006). Who wants to marry a millionaire? Reality dating television programs, attitudes toward sex, and sexual behaviors. Sex Roles, 54(1-2), 1-17.

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