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The Whole Human

STUDY: Watching reality stars can make us less sympathetic to poor people

When you get obsessed with the rich and glamorous lives on “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” “X Factor,” “The Apprentice,” and “Made in Chelsea,” there can be a downside to your binge-watching habits. A new study in Media Psychology suggests that the ritz and glamour on screen can warp your sense of reality and make you less sympathetic to social programs aimed at helping low-income people.

How materialistic TV shows can change how we see the world

For the study, Rodolfo Leyva of the London School of Economics and Political Science recruited 487 British adults, ages 18-49, to explain their television viewing habits, so that he could see if the portrayals of extreme wealth depicted would impact how they saw the world. Levya said he focused on television shows known for glamorizing wealth and material success.

” ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘X-Factor’ emphasize luxury goods as highly desirable, and promote cutthroat competition for the chance to become rich and famous,” the study noted. ” ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ and ‘Made In Chelsea’ center on the glamorous lifestyles of wealthy famous people, and heavy consumption of these types of shows has been found to be positively correlated with materialism.”

When we watch the lives of the Kardashians, we may be absorbing more than plot lines. The study found that heavy consumers of these shows rated as more materialistic and had more anti-welfare attitudes than lighter consumers of the shows. They were more likely to strongly agree that, “Benefits make people lazy and should be cut or eliminated” and “The majority of people in poverty are mostly poor because they didn’t work hard enough and/or value education.” The study concluded that because the shows are “engineered to absorb audiences into the glamorous world of wealth and celebrities, they have a strong potential to function as cultivators of materialistic values and attitudes.”

When material wealth becomes your narrow measure of success, you may look at the rest of the world with less sympathy. “Humans are inherently materialistic but also very social and communal. The way this is expressed depends on our culture,” Leyva said. “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.”

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