Reality TV
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Dubai: I hit a phase in my early twenties. I lived alone in a very cold and dark city in North America. During the winter months I did whatever young college student did to pass the time. I binged on reality TV. That time, was the height of the Kardashians, Housewives, Project Runway, Newlyweds, Punk’d and more. And if there was one thing North Americans were good at, it was bad reality TV. Suddenly I was watching back-to-back episodes of this stuff.

I've since developed healthier habits and a much better social life. Living in the warmer climate of Dubai has helped significantly. 

Until today. Because of the outbreak of the coronavirus, people are binge watching hours of bad reality television. So why do we do this when we are down? Why do we get lost in hours of mindless television?

The reason people love reality television so much, is because it's an easy and legal way to look into the lives of other people. Over the last 30 years, reality television has become a staple in our entertainment.

In “I Am What I Watch: Voyeurism, Sensation Seeking, and Television Viewing Patterns” a psychology paper published in 2010, doctors investigated the habits of voyeuristic people and discovered that the personality trait of voyeurism preferred reality television to normal television series.

It also turns out that binging reality TV or television shows in general is linked to feelings of sadness and dissatisfaction. According to the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, growing evidence suggests that sedentary lifestyle in front of the television is an important risk factor of depression among adults. The objective of this study was to assess the relationship between television watching/computer use and depression.

Child and Adult Psychologist Sneha John from LifeWorks Holistic Counselling Centre in Dubai, backs this up. “Television and specifically reality television is a form of escapism. Everyone knows reality TV is an exaggerated form or reality, so we spend hours watching something entertaining, to forget our daily lives. And it’s okay to be engrossed in a show and to watch something every once in a while. But when it starts to get to the level of binging, that’s when the negative emotions start to come in.”

Usually what happens is we watch reality TV or other series just to get a break. It entertains us up to a point. Hours of watching causes you to go from feeling entertained to feelings of hopelessness and dissatisfaction. ‘Gloomy and sluggish’ are also words Sneha used to describe our post-binge mood.

“The reason we binge on reality TV when we are down is because it is a generally satisfying feeling at first, to spend more time living in virtual world of TV. People who do that start to perceive their real life in a fantasy way. The world is their oyster. They think “This is my life and I can narrate this life. And be like this character. And talk how they talk,” she said.

Sneha explains that this phenomenon is what psychologists call “cultivation theory.” It’s when we spend more time in the virtual world, to assume that it is our real world.

At the moment, during this Coronavirus pandemic people may not have other sources to learn from. They have less exposure to their friends, work, school, teachers, so the next best thing is to see human interaction (albeit Kardashian conversations) online to learn certain behaviors through observation. So we watch more and more and it eventually makes us sad.

During this time, even though it’s so tempting to want to watch 10 episodes a day, if you cut it down and try and fill your time with other things, you can be much happier.

"It is really important to use the time that we have and use it to do something that’s authentic. This is a time where our talent and creativity can really shine. Whether it’s writing, painting or baking. Another tip is to try to create these authentic activities with the guidance of the internet or some social media platform. You might feel a little purposeless in the beginning, but try to really use your own resources first.”

Remember, one feel good movie is okay. But the more you watch the more dissatisfied you feel.