PROVO, Utah — They may not be throwing punches, but reality
television stars show plenty of aggression through name-calling,
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,
"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
never receive an 'aggression' rating. The rating only focuses on
of aggression, as opposed to the (relational or verbal), which I think
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
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
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."