Why do we love reality TV shows so much?

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: July 19, 2022 (Last updated: December 14, 2023)
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Whatever your thoughts are about reality television and the “trash” that finds its way into the format, chances are you’ve seen at least one reality show. Reality dating, athletic competition series, talent shows, and anything in between. On broadcast television and streaming platforms alike, there’s no avoiding them these days. But why is reality TV so addictive?

Reality programmes have become not only extremely popular, but also the target of harsh and widespread criticism. The notion that the shows rely on viewers’ pleasure of the embarrassment and degradation of participants is one of the most significant concerns. It is rare to discover someone who is apathetic in such programmes. We either despise reality shows or, more often than not, we watch them without question.

After a long day at work, the easiest answer is that it’s simple TV to watch. It’s essentially pure escapism, and others compare it to browsing through social media or watching TikTok to turn off sections of the brain.

Why do people watch reality TV?

A different life

People are far more interested in watching the lives of people on series like The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills or The Kardashians and discovering how they live, which is usually extremely different from the audience. If you think about it, reality TV gives the public a legal way of following the private lives of celebrities, or even just the dating life of a once normal person.

Reality television has become a mainstay of modern entertainment in homes all around the globe in the last several decades. It’s essentially a better variation of stalking your favourite celebrities on Instagram.

In some ways, you can feel as though you’re part of their life experiences without having to deal with the worst side of them. People who are inherently more risk-averse or introverted may find this particularly intriguing.

We learn from them

On these shows, we witness a wide range of personality traits and relationship archetypes, and viewers frequently discover people with whom they can identify. If you’re going through something similar, a character expressing romantic feelings can relate with you. Many people are inspired by these characters.

Reality TV is also a unique two way engagement. It might be regarded as an active rather than passive viewing experience if you watch it with other people. And you get to understand what your friends and family believe on important, specific subjects as you see them react to the same event in their own unique ways, which could be seen as one of the lesser discussed advantages of reality TV.

We’re addicted to the drama

Drama can inspire people to get obsessed with it not just because it is emotional and thrilling, but also because it can provide them with a sense of meaning. Drama causes physiological arousal, which raises our heart rate, and visceral arousal, which stimulates the production of endorphins in the brain, which are pain-suppressing and pleasure-inducing, similar to the effect of various drug addictions.

Some researchers even compare the thrill of reality TV to something reminiscent of schadenfreude terrain. Reality television viewers are sometimes drawn to the drama because it makes their own lives seem less chaotic in comparison.

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Next time you’re binge watching Love Island or feeding your addiction to Married at First Sight, you can sit back, relax and comfort yourself that the reason you love it so much is all down to science! Ready for your next addiction? Make sure you keep checking which reality TV series are on which streaming service, we’ve got it covered!