Could Dumb Reality Shows Make Us More Stupid?

There's troubling news today for those of us consuming a steady diet of Jersey Shore and Kardashians-related programming. According to a new study, the entertainment we consume can influence our emotions and behavior. If you've been experiencing the urge to assault a close friend or wax your sister's nether regions, we may have found the culprit.

The concept is known as media priming, and for the first time researchers have determined that a fictional character can influence people's cognitive performance. Austrian psychologists had 81 subjects read long or short versions of a screenplay about a "foolish soccer hooligan." A control group read a version in which the soccer fan didn't do anything particularly stupid or unruly. MSNBC reports:

The story describes a day in the life of a man named Meier: He wakes up, reads (and misunderstands) the message in an inspiration-of-the-day calendar, meets his friends in a bar and gets very drunk. Meier then goes to a soccer game, gets into a fight and comes home to crash; he sleeps through the next day.

After reading the screenplays, subjects were asked general knowledge trivia questions. The researchers found that those who read the story about the stupid soccer hooligan performed worse on the test than those who read the version with no reference to his intelligence. Joanne Cantor, a psychologist and professor of communication arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison explains that this may be because what we've just been thinking about is, "at a higher level in your consciousness, so your brain is kind of predisposed in that direction."

The idea of picking up traits from the characters we watch is troubling in many cases, but we may have already developed a way to protect ourselves. The researchers write that those told to find dissimilarities between themselves and the story's protagonist answered their Trivial Pursuit questions better than those who answered with no instructions. Many people enjoy reality TV because it allows them feel superior to various teen moms, rich housewives, and dudes who are not the father. Viewers probably just like judging other people, but finding the differences between themselves and the characters may help them ward off stupidity.

Watching Jersey Shore Might Make You Dumber, Study Suggests [MSNBC]