Adolescents represent the major audience of reality TV. The general attraction to this genre can be explained by the fact that people want to pass time by seeking entertainment, and reality TV provide good escapism and contains a strong social affiliation, as well as some voyeuristic tendencies. Teenagers more particularly, are very keen on this genre because they can identify with the people displayed on the shows, because there is a certain level of parasocial interaction (opportunities to “get to know” the characters and relate to them, due to abilities to identify to one or several of the characters) and because reality TV, in general, creates emotionally arousing content that adolescents particularly enjoy (exaggerated fights, crushes, suspense).
This study focuses on the link between content viewing frequency and the level of involvement teenagers feel, that is to say, whether the more a teenager is exposed to a reality TV show, the more he will feel engaged with the show and its characters.
The study involves two different times of measurements, T1 and T2, 6 months apart from one another. The researchers measured the subjects’ frequencies of viewing on a scale of 1 to 5 (strongly disagree/strongly agree); and then measured on several scales the different elements: enjoyment, perceived realism, wishful identification, narrative engagement, paradoxical interaction, and identification.
Results found that the more frequent a show is being watched, the more impact it had on the teenagers. They overall identified more with the characters, felt more involved with the show, and enjoyed it more, which are basically emotional responses to reality TV viewing. However, cognitive empathy and perceived realism were not necessarily triggered by the viewing, which means that while teenagers reacted out of emotion and excitement, the shows did not make them reflect on their own behaviors nor it stimulated a more elaborated cognitive process.
Moreover, involvement and viewing frequency at T1 did not predict the teenagers’ behavior at T2. Because the second measures have been taken 6 months later, viewing frequency decreased since TV shows entered new seasons or reruns: new seasons tend to both gain and lose audiences, and reruns tend to have lower viewership. Therefore, the teenagers’ viewing frequency at T2 was not identical to frequencies at T1.
Rinaldo Kühne and Suzanna J. Opree (2020) From admiration to Devotion? The Longitudinal Relation between Adolescents’ Involvement with and Viewing Frequency of Reality TV, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Vol. 64, No. 2, 111-130, DOI: 10.1080/08838151.2020.1728688