Watching reality shows such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians could make viewers less sympathetic to poor people, new research reveals. The authors find that watching television shows that champion materialism is all it takes to be negatively affected by the lap (or the silicone butt) of luxury. Parents hoping to raise children who are sensitive to the socioeconomic struggles of others may want to take note.
“Humans are inherently materialistic but also very social and communal. The way this is expressed depends on our culture,” study author Rodolfo Leyva, a research fellow at the London School of Economics, explained in a statement. “If there is more emphasis on materialism as a way to be happy, this makes us more inclined to be selfish and anti-social, and therefore unsympathetic to people less fortunate.”
Scientists are only now starting to learn the effects that reality televisions can have on viewers. There’s growing evidence that reality television can be very influential, and provoke people to imitate behaviors of their favorite actors. Reality shows had particularly strong effects on how people spend money, one study found. However, this new study is the first to look at the how these reality TV shows shape broader socioeconomic and socio-political perceptions, particularly individual opinions on the welfare system.
For the current study, Leyva surveyed 487 adults in the UK, who thought they were taking an attention and memory test. Subjects were divided into two groups — one was shown four separate advertisements for luxury products, four tabloid pictures of famous celebrities with expensive possessions, and four “rags to riches”-themed news stories. The second group was exposed to neutral images of scenery, public transportation, and headlines about dinosaurs. Participants were also asked how often they watched shows like The Apprentice, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and Made in Chelsea, and how much they read media that featured wealthy celebrities and ads for high-end products. Finally, they were asked a series of questions to measure their feelings about wealth, success, government benefits, and people in poverty.
The findings indicated that even one minute of exposure to materialistic media had a notably negative impact on how individuals felt about poor people and the systems in place meant to help them. “Results suggest that momentary exposure to and regular consumption of materialistic media messages induces stronger materialism and anti-welfare attitudes,” Leyva concluded. Imagine what a 90-minute special could do.
Although the study did not look at the impact this type of media has on children, past research shows that the younger a person is, the harder time they have separating what they’re seeing from reality. If adults can’t separate themselves from Kim Kardashian enough to have empathy for real people struggling economically, letting kids watch such reality shows seems like a great way to give them a Kanye complex.
“This study can contribute to explanations for why the UK public’s support for welfare to aid the impoverished and unemployed has been decreasing during a time of rapidly growing wealth disparities, living costs, and rates of precarious and underemployment.”