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BYU study: Reality shows full of aggression

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PROVO, Utah — They may not be throwing punches, but reality

television stars show plenty of aggression through name-calling,

gossiping and

sabotaging — far more than their scripted counterparts. A new BYU study


that reality television shows contained an average of 52 acts of


each hour, compared with 33 acts an hour for non-reality programs.

"(I figured they would) be about equal," said

author Sarah Coyne, an assistant professor in the School of Family Life.


then we found these whopping, whopping figures, and I just was blown


__IMAGE1__Coyne, who began the research while working in England,

picked the top five reality shows and the top five non-reality shows


included some American shows) and coded 120 hours of each.

She and a graduate student looked for any physical, verbal

or relational aggression, including insults, yelling or "really dirty

dealings," like those on "The Apprentice," which scored the

highest with 85 aggressive acts an hour.

Yet of those 85, not one was a physical act of aggression,

she said.

"American Idol" clocked in at 57 and "E.R."

made the bottom of the non-reality list at 14 instances.

Soap operas, the most aggressive non-reality shows, had

around 48 acts an hour, Coyne said.

The study will appear in June's issue of The Journal of

Broadcasting and Electronic Media with BYU professor David Nelson also


as an author.

"I think we need to widen our view in terms of

aggression," Coyne said. "You get a (television sub) rating of V for

violence, but some of these programs have gobs and gobs of aggression

and you'd

never receive an 'aggression' rating. The rating only focuses on

physical types

of aggression, as opposed to the (relational or verbal), which I think

are more

common in day-to-day relationships, and people would be more likely to


Today's ratings focus on violence, sexual content and

language, but relational aggression is becoming more of an issue,


given the increase in teen suicides due to intense bullying, said BYU

communications professor Mark Callister, who studies media and

adolescents and

has collaborated with Coyne in the past.

"We've become, as a society, very sensitive to children

who are being victimized in that way," he said. "(They become) very

much the victim(s) of a lot of gossip, verbal aggressiveness. So it

raises the

question, where do they get exposed to this kind of relational


And in the next breath, he answered his own question.

"Media is such an important part of their socialization,"

he said. "We do know from research that children do model behaviors that

they see in the media, that it does have a profound impact on them."

Coyne clarified she is not against reality TV shows but only

intends her research to be illuminating.

"The main message is just to recognize the stuff that

goes on in these programs," she said. "They're not as innocuous as we

think. Just because there's not physical violence in them doesn't mean


not a ton of mean, spiteful behavior going on."

E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com