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Fascination of Reality Television with the College Student Audience:
The Uses and Gratifications Perspective on the Program Genre
James A. Mead
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
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Reality Fascination 2
Due to recent publications on the popularity of reality television
over the past few years, a study was conducted in order to determine
the most common motives for why a specific target audience watches
the programming genre. A total of162 southeastern Wisconsin college
students were surveyed on their regular television viewing
habits. The only demographics each participant revealed were gender,
age, race, and class standing. Results indicated that the most
common motives they had for watching reality television programming
included its humorous and off-the-wall content, its mixture of drama
and excitement, and its serial format.
Reality Fascination 3
Fascination of Reality Television with the College Student Audience:
The Uses and Gratifications Perspective on the Program Genre
Over the past few years, it seems reality programming has taken over
the television airwaves and affected the consuming patterns of the
viewers. Thomas (2003) says reality programs attract their viewers
because of the personal fulfillment that is achieved by watching
them. Many articles have already been written (Sack, 2003; Frisby,
2004; Howley, 2004) on the popularity of reality television with
respect to a specific audience, namely high school and college students.
Much research has also been conducted over the years (Herzog, 1944;
Schramm, Lyle, & Parker, 1961; Rubin, 1979, 1983: Ang, 1985; Babrow,
1987) on determining specific reasons why a target audience seeks out
a form of media programming. Results of these findings indicate many
different reasons (or motives) to seek out a particular type of
show. Because the reality phenomenon is still fairly new, there is a
current lack of evidence linking this genre to media effects;
therefore, it seems logical to research and identify the most common
motives a target audience has for viewing the programming.
The purpose of this study is first to test the reliability of the
previous research and determine if a surveyed group of college
students do in fact actively seek out reality television programming
as a form of personal fulfillment. Second, assuming the data reveals
what is expected, the study will then calculate and rank the
different motives students indicated as to why they seek out these
Reality Fascination 4
To obtain the data, 162 southeastern Wisconsin undergraduate students
were surveyed at two state universities and one technical
college. By having them both list and rate reasons why they watch
the programs, it is assumed the most common motives will be
revealed. With the results, in addition to providing the reliability
to past research studies on students' interest of reality television,
data from this material can be helpful in further understanding the
uses and gratifications perspective with regards to media
effects. Aside from academics, these findings may also provide
helpful information for television producers who seek to obtain high
program ratings and revenue from advertisers who plan
marketing/sponsor campaigns on television.
In order to accurately understand the surveys and their purpose,
readers first need to understand the definition of "reality
programming" so the genre is not confused with other programming that
contain realistic content. Second, because the purpose of this study
is to determine satisfaction from media consumption, it is important
to understand the Uses and Gratifications Theory. First introduced
in the 1940s, the theory has been intensely researched over the last
fifty years since the invention of television.
"Reality Program" Defined
What is Considered Reality Television?
Reality television can be identified as game shows, talent shows,
and "day in the life" programs that showcase the personalities of
people not normally held in the spotlight (Brasch, 2003). Kennedy
(2000) says putting these non-celebrities in front of the cameras
without a script offers insight into human relationships that will
never be realized in a sitcom with a laugh track. Gourley (2001)
focuses on the spirit of
Reality Fascination 5
competition between the program's stars in search for a top prize as
the key quality that differs reality from other television
genres. Such programs, labeled "gamedocs" (Murray, 2004, p. 42) have
been arguably considered more like "unreal TV" (Streisand, 2001)
because the participants are placed in situations that are quite
abnormal compared to their everyday life. With respect to this
issue, the gamedocs such as Survivor and Fear Factor will still be
classified as reality programs due to their script-free, non-celebrity content.
With the accumulated material from various authors, a "reality
program," for the purpose of the study in this paper, will be defined
as an unscripted program that shows real people, not actors nor
athletes, active in a specific environment. The Real World,
Survivor, The Bachelor, and Fear Factor are examples that qualify as
reality programs for the purpose of this research study.
It is important to distinguish between this defined genre and other
programs like newscasts and talk shows that use realism to entertain
and inform its viewers. First, newscasts are typically scripted via
teleprompter. Its viewed material (footage) consists of real-world
people as opposed to actors, but the format of a newscast limits our
ability to learn about the personal attributes of the characters it
profiles. The focus of newscasts is not the same as other reality
programs. While news anchors strive to entertain their viewers, the
primary purpose of the newscast is to inform, not entertain.
Talk shows are a little harder to differentiate from the other
reality shows, since both genres focus on following the lives of
unknown real-world people. One major factor that distinguishes talk
shows is that they tend to be more scripted to a format
Reality Fascination 6
involving guest interviews and audience participation. In fact,
Jerry Springer has relied so much on audience reaction and comments
toward guests, it has been accused of turning the talk show genre
into "voyeuristic entertainment that goads some of the poorest and
most volatile members of society: trailer-park trash and ghetto
kids" (Giles, 2003, p. 239). In fact, the pressure of the talk shows
to entertain their viewers has led some to present fake guests with
problems a viewer cannot resist (Giles, 2003). It can then be argued
that while reality programs aim at entertaining and developing
character connections with its viewers, the talk shows focus on
entertaining the viewers by ridiculing or exposing intimate secrets
of its characters.
Giles (2003) adds that talk shows also tend to cater more to
women. Unlike most reality and game shows, there have traditionally
been more female talk show hosts (Oprah, Jenny Jones, Ricki Lake)
whose show topics are centered around women's needs; therefore, they
have a more selective audience over any other type of program related
to realistic content.
History of Reality Television
Several recent publications (Sack, 2003; Frisby, 2004; Howley, 2004)
have focused on the rise of reality television over the past few
years. Sack (2003) and Howley (2004) indicate that programs such as
The Bachelor, Joe Millionaire, American Idol, and The Osbournes have
become very popular among high school and college student
viewers. In fact, Frisby (2004) argues that even if you don't like
reality television, it is actually quite difficult to avoid due to
the overwhelming number of programs currently on the air.
Reality Fascination 7
The creation of Survivor in May, 2000 is credited for introducing the
viewing audience to today's reality concept, making it television's
hottest attraction (Baumgardner, 2003) and inspiring a frenzy of
copycat productions. Haralovich and Trosset (2004) attribute the
success of Survivor to its mixture of adventure and drama within a
game text. Its "weekly dose of genuine unpredictability" (Haralovich
and Trosset, 2004, p. 76) keeps the viewer glued to the screen week
after week in order to see what happens next.
Even though Survivor brought the popularity of reality television to
the major networks, the genre has existed for many years
previous. The earliest examples of reality programming actually date
back to the advent of commercial television following World War
II. They included the early quiz shows, which appealed to people who
wanted to see everyday people win large sums of cash and prizes for
answering questions in front of a live audience (Brooks & Marsh,
1988). The always-good-for-a-cry Queen for a Day (Rathjen, 2004)
allowed people to hear the sob stories of four non-celebrity women
who tried to persuade a voting audience why she should be crowned
that episode's queen. Finally, in Candid Camera, Allen Funt and his
crew set up outrageous acts to record the reactions and
embarrassments of an unsuspecting public (Brasch, 2003).
Other attempts at reality programming came years later. In 1973, PBS
aired An American Family, a twelve-hour documentary that followed the
lives of a Santa Barbara, CA family (www.pbs.org); FOX-TV has
broadcast Cops, a weekly look at real-world police and their street
activities, for thirteen years; and in 1992, MTV launched The Real
World, which invited cable viewers to witness the daily activities of
Reality Fascination 8
strangers who shared a New York apartment for a certain number of
months (Biography, 2003).
The Popularity of Reality Television Today
The genre has been able to obtain its level of success over the past
few years for several reasons, with the first being its simple
production concept. Viewer popularity, along with cheap production
costs, makes a reality show good business for a television network,
compared to other forms of programming such as comedies and dramas
(Sack, 2003). For instance, the stars of a reality show are more
affordable due to their "no-name status" (Brasch, 2003, p. 3) the
sets tend to cost less (Gourley, 2001), and since much of the
material is unscripted, staff writer fees are comparably minimal.
A second reason separate from cost is the popularity of reality
television in the 18-24 age group, a demographic that past
researchers (Baumgardner, 2003; Brasch, 2003) indicate as the target
audience for a majority of the commercials that air today. A third
reason the programs appeal to viewers is because of the ability to
view the second-by-second lives of people. The strength of reality
television is in its "visual gossip" (Sack, 2003), allowing the
viewer to peer into the lives of an interesting real-life character
who may behave in very similar fashion to the viewer. A good example
of this is the FOX series Temptation Island, where the viewer is
given the role of a "keyhole private detective" (Andrejevic, 2004, p.
173) with the ability to pry into bedrooms to see if separated
couples fall victim to romantic strangers while their significant
other is nowhere in sight. This attraction might be related to the
fact that some viewers find following the life of a reality program
character is more entertaining and interesting than
Reality Fascination 9
what occurs daily in their own lives (Thomas, 2003). This seems
logical since we already live in a world where people are obsessed
with the private lives of celebrities; a benefit of reality TV is
that it actually takes the shortcut of making people celebrities
based on their willingness to expose their private lives (Thomas, 2003).
Reality programming, with all its benefits, appears to be the
lifeboat for television networks over the past few years. Its
ability to rescue sagging ratings (Brasch, 2003) while maintaining
lower production costs benefit producers looking for content that
will complement a competitive prime time schedule. In fact,
according to Ouellette and Murray (2004), by January, 2003,
one-seventh of all ABC programming was reality-based. ABC, along
with CBS, FOX, and NBC all continue to add a greater percentage of
reality programming to their schedules even today (www.usatoday.com, 2004).
Now that the reality program genre has been defined and
distinguished from other forms of entertainment, it is important to
understand how it attracts viewers that seek it out in order to
satisfy various personal needs. This behavior involves being able to
interpret the concept of the Uses and Gratifications Theory.
Uses and Gratifications Perspective
Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch (1974) are credited today as the
founders of Uses and Gratifications Theory following their research
into identifying reasons why, when, and how individuals seek out the
media. Their research led to the defining of Uses and Gratifications
as the framework for understanding why and how individuals use the
media to satisfy wants and needs.
Although the theory was formally given a name in the mid-70s, audience-media
Reality Fascination 10
relationship research dates back to the 1940s. Additional studies
since the1970s indicate how the theory has developed to where it is today.
Early History of Uses and Gratifications
The pioneering work of Herzog (1944) is one of the first recorded
studies into media gratification. Herzog (1944) created five
hypothetical differences she believed existed between female
listeners and non-listeners of radio daytime serials. These included
the notions that frequent listeners were more isolated from their
community, their intellectual range was not as broad, and they
typically were more frustrated with the current routine in their
personal lives. After conducting a variety of interviews, results
found that women listened to the serials because these programs
fulfilled a number of different desires. First, many of them were
looking for an emotional release, or "a good chance to cry" (Herzog,
1944, p. 24) over someone else's problems instead of their own;
second, the serials filled empty gaps in the lives of those
listeners; third, and unexpected to Herzog, was the advice obtained
through the programs. These serials were found to be useful because
they "explain things to the listener" (Herzog, 1944, p. 25) through
character portrayals. It was further mentioned that advice received
from radio serials actually rivaled the advice columns featured in
the daily newspapers.
Research continued as a result of television's amazing popularity during the
1950s. Schramm, Lyle, and Parker (1961) focused on the medium's
effects on children. Schramm is credited for developing "a means of
determining which offerings of mass communication will be selected by
a given individual through the fraction of selection" (West & Turner,
2000, p. 334). This process involves an audience member's reward
Reality Fascination 11
level (gratification) he or she expects to obtain from a given medium
against how much effort it takes to secure the reward. Schramm and
his colleagues argued that children actively select to view material
from television that best fit their interests and needs rather than
the anticipated effect that children would become passive victims to
the new medium. Results of eleven studies conducted in different
areas of the United States and Canada from 1958-1961 indicated that
children watched television for a number of reasons, including for
entertainment (the programs are visually pleasurable), information
(something can be learned by watching), and social utility (the
programming is what other siblings and friends are watching).
Uses and Gratifications Today
The theory received additional attention in the 1970s, first with
the work of Katz,
Blumler, and Gurevitch (1974), and later by Rubin (1979). As
mentioned earlier, Katz et al. sought to determine motives of
audience viewership. The key assumption to the theory involves
identifying the audience member as an active and willing participant
who receives information from a specific medium choice. This choice
is selected because it suits needs the participant is looking to
fulfill. In addition, viewer needs are influenced by audience
"social situations and psychological dispositions" (Katz, Blumler, &
Gurevitch, 1974, p. 33). This particular publication went on to
raise questions to the extent which the media satisfies its
audience. Studies into this perspective continued with the work of
Rubin (1979), Ang (1985), and Babrow (1987).
With his first study in uses and gratifications, Rubin (1979)
developed six viewing motives a particular audience member has to
watching television: for learning,
Reality Fascination 12
for passing time, for companionship, for escape, for excitement or
arousal, and for relaxation. Rubin expanded his work during the
1980s by using these six motives as the template for the development
of questionnaires to back his findings.
Rubin (1983) designed a test to investigate how television viewing
patterns and individual motivations are linked. Data from a 1978
study where 626 individuals from two Midwestern communities ranging
in age 4 to 89 years was re-introduced. Rubin's 1983 study focused
on adults (those between the ages of 18 to 89) only, so the original
tested participants was revised to 464. In addition, several
questions were thrown out, as they pertained more to children. The
sample was broken down to 50 percent male, 50 percent female, with a
mean age of 33.3 years old.
To test viewing motivation, 30 reasons for watching television were
provided, and participants ranked on a scale of 1 to 5 how likely
they were to watch television for that reason. Each of the
statements were based on the original Rubin motives; scores were
tallied with 5 representing "a highly likely reason" for television
viewing, and 1 representing "an unlikely reason" (Rubin, 1983, p. 40)
for television viewing. Results of his analysis indicated that the
participants responded the highest to the relaxation and entertainment motives.
Uses and gratifications in television was extend with the work of
Ang (1985) and Babrow(1987), where viewing motives were focused on a
specific genre of programming
(in both cases, soap operas were researched, due to their popularity
in the early 80s, especially in prime time). Ang (1985) obtained
surveys from 42 different participants regarding the top motives
people had for watching Dallas. These included for
Reality Fascination 13
entertainment, voyeuristic pleasure, and emotional release. The
results also showed that viewers not only had reasons for why they
loved the prime time soap, but interestingly, there were many reasons
also for why they hated the show, such as the adultery and other
villainous behavior of the characters. The interesting discovery of
this data was that viewers found themselves watching a show they
admitted to actually hating at times.
Babrow (1987) measured motives that audience members had for
watching daytime soap operas. A survey asked 301 undergraduate
students at a Midwestern university to cite reasons why they watched
them. Because many students indicated multiple reasons, the
questionnaire yielded a total of 730 responses, and provided 16
categories (such as escape from boredom, relaxation, and
entertainment) as perceived viewing motives. The most common
response (with 16.8 percent of the participants making reference) was
"time considerations" (Babrow, 1987, p. 314), as students indicated
they watched soap operas because they had nothing better to do during
that time of the day.
Statement of Research Question
With all of the information documented about reality television and
Uses and Gratifications Theory, a survey was developed to test the
relationship between a specific target audience and the immense
popularity of the genre. The data were intended to answer the
following research question: what are the most common reasons
college students give for watching reality programs?
A random number of individuals were asked to complete the survey,
with the purpose of revealing the top motives. Obviously the reality
survey was mirrored after the
Reality Fascination 14
Babrow study, as it used those 16 categories (plus four others) as
the independent variable, while the level of likelihood of that
category was the dependent variable. The reality survey did undergo
some necessary adjustments. First, because reality programs avoid
using celebrities like the soaps do, a category related to
voyeuristic pleasure was added as a potential motive. Babrow avoided
any link to voyeurism in the original survey.
In addition, it was determined that two of Babrow's 16 categories
needed to be further specified and broken down into different
sub-categories. These included the areas of character development
and diversion. With character development, there is a difference
between identifying a character's moods/mannerisms (character
complexity) and how a character reacts as a result of the situations
presented within the show (character development). With diversion,
it can be assumed that one may choose to watch television in order to
relax or take a break from a normal routine. With regards to reality
television, diversion can also mean choosing to watch in order to
distract the viewer from his/her own reality (the lives of other
people may tend to be seen as more interesting or exciting than their
own). As a result of these revisions in addition to the adding of
voyeurism, the reality survey actually has 20 categories for
participants to rate.
A final revision includes adding open-ended questions to the reality
survey that did not appear in Babrow. The purpose here is to
discover a participant's actual fondness of reality programming. The
Babrow data appears to have assumed that anyone who filled out the
survey naturally did so because they watched soap operas
regularly. There appears to be no indication on the survey asking
the participants if they watch soap
Reality Fascination 15
operas for fulfillment purposes. It is possible, then, that some
collected data could have come from people who despise soaps, thereby
affecting the final rankings. To solve the potential for this
problem with the reality survey, any participant who indicated they
do not watch reality programming was unable to rate motives for
watching them. Therefore, it can be better assumed that all motive
scores tabulated were done by people who actively seek and watch
reality TV for a particular reason.
The survey was distributed to southeastern Wisconsin undergraduate
college students ranging in age from 18 to 24. The focus of the
specific age demographic was based on the previous research into the
particular audience who best appreciates reality television (Sack,
2003; Howley, 2004) and that producers of reality television have
indicated they target with their programs (Brasch, 2003). The only
other demographics each participant was asked to fill out was gender
(male or female), race (Caucasian, African-American, Asian, etc.),
and class standing (freshman, sophomore, etc.). This information
requested of each participant was listed categorically.
For the sake of obtaining the most accurate results, the survey
first defined a reality program. The participant would be less
likely then to confuse the genre under investigation with other
programs that involve realism within the program content.
A total of 162 copies of the same survey (as seen in Table 1) were
distributed to communication classes at two state universities and
one technical college in the Midwest.
Reality Fascination 16
All were issued in fall, 2004, on the Wednesday prior to the week of
Thanksgiving and the following Tuesday of the holiday week. These
days were chosen because they were each in the middle of the school
week, and the possibility of any distracting mood swings due to the
beginning or ending of a school week would be limited.
The survey began by asking the participant to estimate the number of
television hours he/she watched during the average week. Next, each
participant was asked to estimate the number of television hours
watched during the average week that were considered "reality
programs." The reality genre was clearly defined, so the
participants were clear what type of programs were deemed "reality,"
versus those that were not, such as news, talk shows, and sporting events.
The next part of the survey consisted of open-ended questions and
asked the participant first to briefly indicate why they avoid
reality programs if they indicated
"none" when estimating number of reality hours watched per week.
Second, if the participant indicated he/she watched reality programs,
they were asked to list three reasons why he/she watches. The final
part had the participant first rate (through the use of a Likert-type
scale system) from 1-7 how likely he/she would be to watch the
reality program based on that proposed category presented (7 = highly
likely, 1 = highly unlikely); second, he/she also needed to rate from
1-7 how strongly he/she agrees with a statement made regarding
personal reasons for watching reality television (7 = strongly agree,
1 = strongly disagree). Again, the statements created in the rating
section of the survey were based on different motives, inspired by
the original 16 mentioned in Babrow.
Reality Fascination 17
162 surveys were distributed and returned. Respondents included 78
males (48 percent) and 84 females (52 percent). 14 were filled out by
students who did not fall in the required age group of 18-24. The
results of these individuals will be included in the findings,
although it is necessary to note that nine percent of the
participants surveyed made up an age group other than those who the
survey was intended for. In addition, 42 of those individuals
surveyed (26 percent) indicated they watch no reality programming at
all. Reasons provided in the open-ended questions for why they
avoided reality programming included the content was seen as
ridiculous and silly; the shows were boring; or the apparent overkill
of so many reality shows on the air today actually turned some people
off from television.
Of the 120 individuals who indicated they watch some form of reality
television, 51 were males (43 percent), 69 were females (58
percent). An SPSS data set was created to analyze the findings and a
t-test was done in order to show the demographic breakdown. Gender,
age, race, class standing, television hours viewed per week, and
reality television hours viewed per week were coded categorically in
order to obtain these numbers. The coding procedure was as follows:
gender (1 = male; 2 = female); age
(1 = 18-24 years old; 2 = other); race (1 = white; 2 = black; 3 =
Hispanic; 4 = Native American; 5 = Asian; 6 = other); class standing
(1 = freshman; 2 = sophomore; 3 = junior; 4 = senior; 5 = other);
television hours viewed per week (1 = less than 5;
2 = 5 10; 3 = 11-15; 4 = 16-20; 5 = more than 20); reality
television hours viewed per week (1 = None; 2 = less than 5; 3 =
5-10; 4 = 11-15; 5 = more than 15).
Reality Fascination 18
As indicated in Table 2, males spend more hours watching television
(11-15 per week; mean score of 3.15, sd = 1.35) than females (5-10
per week; mean score of 2.85,
sd = 1.38). However, males watch less reality programming hours
(less than 5 per week; mean score of 1.86, sd = .71) than females
(5-10 per week; mean score of 2.21, sd = .77).
In terms of race of the participants, 148 were white (91 percent), 6
were black (3 percent), 3 were Hispanic (2 percent), 4 were Asian (2
percent), and 1 qualified as other (less than 1 percent). No Native
Americans were represented in the sample. Therefore no study with
regards to race was done due to sample limitations.
In terms of class standing, there were 29 freshmen (18 percent), 54
sophomores (33 percent), 33 juniors (20 percent), 34 seniors (21
percent), and 12 other (7 percent). The high total of the "other"
category may be the result of either graduate students taking the
survey (while attending a class with other undergrads) or the
technical college students taking the survey who are working towards
an associate degree and indicated "other" instead of putting down
their actual year in school.
Table 3 identifies how each of the 20 categories ranked as top
motives for watching reality television. The most popular with a
combined mean score of 5.64
(males = 5.12, females = 6.03) on a 7-point scale was watching
reality programming for
its humor. This means the viewers seek out the content because they
find it funny, even laughable at times. The remainder of the top five
include: watching for entertainment purposes (combined mean of 5.20;
males = 4.65, females = 5.61); for drama and excitement arousal
(combined mean of 4.78; males = 3.92, females = 5.41); for its serial
format (combined mean of 4.72; males = 4.02, females = 5.23); and for
its sexual and
Reality Fascination 19
relationship content (combined mean of 4.39; males = 4.10, females = 4.59).
The less popular motives for watching included for learning (mean
score of 1.97), for companionship (2.20), and to let off steam (mean
score of 2.78).
Analysis of Research Data Collected
As the Table 3 indicates, while there is very little difference in
the top motives in terms of gender, there is a significant difference
in the number of reality television hours viewed per week. As seen
in Table 2, males watched far less reality TV hours (mean score of
1.86) than females (mean score of 2.21). Therefore, while the top
motives may be very similar in terms of gender, it appears that women
in the 18-24 age group watch more reality programming than men. The
assumption here is that men may typically tune to sports programming
over anything else. In fact, the reason some gave for not watching
reality TV was because they tend to watch ESPN.
Further response to the students' top five motives indicates that
both males and females are most likely to watch reality shows for the
care-free, entertaining, no-sense content. This is based on the
choices such as humor, arousal, and sexual interaction, which ranked
the highest. On the other hand, the students also agree they were
less likely to watch reality shows for learning or companionship purposes.
Despite using a survey format very similar to the Babrow (1987) one,
the reality results were very different. As mentioned earlier the
top motives for this study were for humor, for entertainment, and for
arousal. The soap opera survey ranked time consideration and
diversion the highest. There could be a few reasons for this. First, the
Reality Fascination 20
reality genre contains a much more diverse selection of programming
compared to soap operas. For example, Survivor provides the viewer
with the thrill of competition during its weekly challenges; Blind
Date is a different type of reality show that allows the viewer to
follow the unscripted, impromptu first date of a couple who had never
previously met; Who Wants to be a Millionaire, like the classic quiz
shows of the 1950s, allows the viewer to watch a non-celebrity
contestant attempt to win a big cash prize. Because of this program
diversity, reality television provides much more variety than the
one-dimensional serial romance storylines that soap operas have.
A second reason the results are different may be because of the time
of day these genres are on. Soap operas are generally viewed in the
daytime and this factor could limit the type of audience (typically
females) that could be tested by Babrow. Since most reality programs
air during prime time or late night hours they allow for a more
diverse audience that can be studied. Despite the low turnout, it
can be assumed (until other data tells us otherwise) that males will
typically watch more prime time reality television than daytime soaps.
A discrepancy is found between the past research involving college
student fondness of reality programming and the results of this
survey. Although the data indicate that 74 percent of the
participants did indicate to viewing some form of reality
programming, it was a surprise to discover that as many as 42 out of
162 participants (26 percent) said they watch no reality
programming. While it could be argued that college students may not
have time to watch a lot of TV, results from Table 4 indicate they do
watch a decent amount of television (almost 60 percent of the
participants said they
Reality Fascination 21
watch over ten hours per week). However, Table 5 indicates that
reality programming makes up less than 25 percent of those television
hours. While it can be argued that the author is looking at the
findings in a "glass is half empty" text, two things can also be
considered. Either past research regarding the relationship between
college students and reality television needs to be re-visited, or
more likely, some college students do not wish to admit to watching reality TV.
It is also possible that some of the reasons were worded in a way
that caused students to react with lower scores. A surprising fact
of this study is that students ranked voyeurism, believed to be an
important trait distinguishing reality from other genres) lower than
what was initially expected (combined mean of 3.84). This could be
because they really do not care about viewing the private lives of
other people; it could also be because the question was not phrased
well: "reality TV allows me to view the private lives of other
people." This may be received negatively, and students may confuse
this with the work of a "peeping tom." If this was the case, we must
consider re-phrasing that question, and perhaps take a look at the
others to see if the wording could have influenced the way it was
The 120 participants who admitted to watching some form of reality
television provided a large enough sample to obtain plenty of
results. The breakdown between males and females was fairly even, as
was the breakdown of class standing. The only demographic that
needed to be better improved was the race, as it was overly dominated
by whites. This made it very difficult to determine if race plays a
factor, if any, in the motives of reality watching.
Reality Fascination 22
Limitations of the Research
The first limitation is the lack of race diversity with the
participants. Although it is not clear what the actual race ratio is
at the schools used, it cannot be assumed this survey breakdown is
consistent to the population of the schools.
Second, the survey may have to be re-worded so that the categories
are clearly defined. Although it may make for a longer survey, it is
very important that each participant understand what the author is
looking for when discussing a particular category. Along with this,
updating the words to a category question may entice them to answer
more truthfully if they feel the question is not seen as negative in character.
Third, consideration may need to be given to the fact that because
of its diverse selection of programming, a survey like this may
provide different results if just one sub-category of the reality
genre is explored. For example, if participants are asked to rate
reasons why they watch "gamedoc" programs like Survivor or Fear
Factor, this would
limit the number of programs that qualify and would change the
results of the motives. In order to do this type of research,
docusoaps like The Real World and talent shows like American Idol
would have to be defined as well, informing the participants as to
why they would not qualify for this study.
Finally, the current study does not factor in how other young adults
who fit in the 18-25 year old age bracket would respond to the
survey, since it was geared specifically at college students. It
must be assumed that those who do not attend classes beyond high
school still watch TV, but it is unclear what they watch at this
point. Despite past research into the study of college student
viewing behaviors, it seems like an oversight to
Reality Fascination 23
not include a better representation of the18-25 age group.
It seems obvious what the next steps need to be with the information
gathered from this study. As beneficial as the data is, it should be
compared to a new study where the survey is revised and the sample
better reflects the real world 18-25 year old age group, including a
more accurate portrayal of race. It may be a good idea to focus
research on a specific sub-category of reality television to find out
if there is any significant difference between forms of reality programming.
Even though it was a good size sample, it could be helpful to obtain
additional participants and see if the mean scores reveal a change in
any motive. Having students participate from other parts of the
country other than the Midwest may be helpful.
Off the topic a bit, but a future study may also revolve around the
psychological behaviors or intelligence of reality TV viewers. An
interesting analysis may include
accompanying a survey with an IQ test. The purpose would be to find
any patterns of behavior or brain activity that could be related to
higher or lower viewing habits. Bottom line, any additional research
of the relationship between television programming and the
viewers is beneficial. People continue to have a general reliance on
television; mixed with the changing eras of programming throughout
history, it seems
only logical to continue studying how these changes affect our
behaviors and help decide why we chose to watch what we do.
Reality Fascination 24
Despite past research into the popularity of reality television
programming, the findings of this paper contradict the assumption on
the genre's popularity with undergraduate college students. For
reasons that need to be explored further, almost 25 percent of those
surveyed indicated they do not watch any reality programming, while
still watching a good deal of other forms of television during the
average week. Those who did indicate they watch reality programs,
sought them out specifically for their humor, entertainment, drama
and excitement, serial format, and sexual content. Reality TV is
more popular with females over males, even though males watch more
television overall. Future research needs to verify this data, and a
more diverse sample of race and students from areas other than in the
Midwest may help here. It may be worth considering focusing on one
sub-category within the diverse genre in order to determine if
viewing motives vary on a particular type of show.
Reality Fascination 25
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Reality Fascination 29
Table 1: Reality Television Programming Survey (2 pages)
The following survey will be tabulated to help study human behavior
as related to mass communication. Please be honest when filling it
out, as your name will not be needed as identification. Read each
question carefully, and provide the answer that best describes you or
The survey involves understanding viewing patterns and behaviors by
individuals who regularly view reality programs. For the purposes of
this study, a reality program will be defined as an unscripted
program that shows real people, not actors or athletes, active in a
specific environment. Examples of reality programs would include The
Real World, Survivor, The Bachelor, Temptation Island, and Fear Factor.
INFORMATION ON THE PARTICIPANT
1. Male____________Female____________ 2. Age (Yrs.)_____________
3. Race__________________ 4. Class Standing (Freshman,
1. Estimate the number or hours of television you watch during an
average week. ___________
2. Estimate the number of television hours watched per week that are
considered "reality programs."
IF YOU INDICATED "ZERO" OR "NONE" FOR NUMBER TWO, MOVE ON TO NUMBER
THREE. IF YOU INDICATED SOMETHING OTHER THAN "ZERO" OR "NONE" MOVE
ON TO NUMBER FOUR.
3. Briefly indicate reasons why you do not watch reality programs.
IF YOU INDICATED THAT YOU DO NOT WATCH ANY REALITY PROGRAMMING, THEN
STOP HERE. THANK YOU FOR YOUR ASSISTANCE.
4. List briefly reasons why you watch a particular reality program.
Reality Fascination 30
5. Rate how accurately each of the following statements relates to
your reasons for viewing reality programming.
Highly Unlikely Highly Likely
I watch reality programs because it's the best thing on TV today.
Watching reality programs provides a form of relaxation for me.
Reality television distracts me, even for a small period of time,
from my own life's reality.
I watch reality TV because I find the situations on a particular show humorous.
I watch reality TV because that is what is on when I turn on TV.
I watch reality TV because by watching, it gives me something to talk
about with my friends.
I watch reality programming because the serial format keeps me glued
week after week.
I watch a particular reality show because I am interested in a
specific character on the show.
I watch reality programs for the drama, excitement, or suspense.
I learn how to act in certain situations by watching reality TV.
I have found myself addicted to a particular reality program.
By watching a reality program, I become interested or involved in the
progression of a certain character.
Agree Strongly Disagree
A reality program provides a sense of companionship for me.
I stay tuned to a reality program to see what will happen next.
Reality television is entertaining.
I enjoy the sex/relationship issues of a particular show.
I can relate to the character(s) on a particular show.
Reality TV allows me to view the private lives of other people.
I am interested in the complexity of characters on reality programs.
Reality program viewing allows me to let off steam.
Reality Fascination 31
Table 2: Participant Television Hours Viewed by Gender (Percentage)
Coding for Mean Numbers
Television Hours Viewed Per Week 1 = less than 5 hours
2 = 5 10 hours
3 = 11 15 hours
4 = 16 20 hours
5 = more than 20 hours
Reality Television Hours Viewed Per Week 1 = None
2 = less than 5 hours
3 = 6 10 hours
4 = 11 15 hours
5 = more than 15 hours
Participant N Mean SD
TV Hrs. Viewed/Week male 78 3.15 1.35
female 84 2.85 1.38
Reality TV Hrs. Viewed/Week male 78 1.86 .71
female 84 2.21 .77
Reality Fascination 32
Table 3: Motives for Watching Reality Programming
Category Mean, Standard Deviation Rank
Males Females Combined
Males Females Combined
M SD M SD M SD
Humorous content 5.12 1.84 6.02 1.07 5.64 1.51 1 1 1
Entertainment 4.65 1.59 5.61 1.40 5.20 1.55 2 2 2
Arousal (drama) 3.92 1.90 5.41 1.75 4.78 1.95 5 3 3
Serial format 4.02 1.67 5.23 1.66 4.72 1.76 4 4 4
Sexual interaction 4.10 1.75 4.59 1.78 4.39 1.78 3 6 5
Interest in character 3.78 1.80 4.22 2.00 4.03 1.93 6 10 6
Relaxation 3.21 1.63 4.53 1.77 3.98 1.83 11 7 7
Distracts from own
reality 3.37 1.75 4.36 1.64 3.94 1.75 9 9 8
Curiosity of show 3.12 1.77 4.52 2.08 3.93 2.07 12 8 9
What's on when I turn
on TV 3.37 1.75 4.21 1.68 3.85 1.75 9 11 10
Voyeurism 3.45 1.86 4.13 1.97 3.84 1.94 7 12 11
Addiction to content 2.65 1.73 4.67 2.00 3.81 2.13 16 5 12
Relate to character 3.43 1.55 3.83 1.98 3.66 1.81 8 15 13
Character complexity 3.10 1.42 4.00 1.87 3.62 1.75 13 13 14
Character progression 3.10 1.81 3.74 2.00 3.47 1.95 13 16 15
What friends watch 2.51 1.60 3.92 1.97 3.32 1.95 17 14 16
Best thing on TV 2.37 1.44 3.38 2.04 2.95 1.87 18 17 17
Let off steam 2.73 1.70 2.83 1.88 2.78 1.80 15 18 18
Companionship 2.02 1.49 2.33 1.62 2.20 1.57 20 19 19
Learning 2.13 1.55 1.84 1.24 1.97 1.39 19 20 20
Reality Fascination 33
Table 4: Frequency of Television Viewed Per Week (Hours)
No. of Hrs. Viewed N Percent
less than 5 24 14.8
5 10 45 27.8
11 15 40 24.7
16 20 16 9.9
more than 20 37 22.9
Table 5: Frequency of Reality Television Viewed Per Week (Hours)
No. of Hrs. Viewed N Percent
None 42 25.9
less than 5 85 52.5
5 10 30 18.5
11 15 4 2.5
more than 15 1 .06