Real Mean Girls? Reality Television Viewing, Social Aggression, and Gender-Related Beliefs Among Female Emerging Adults

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The popularity of reality TV programming exceeds that of any other genre, particularly among young female viewers. Past research suggests a link between viewing reality TV, gender stereotyping, and social aggression among young women, but little is known theoretically about this relationship. The present study of U.S. female emerging adults (N = 174) takes a media psychology approach to understand how reality TV may contribute to gender stereotyping and belief in social aggression as a necessary means to getting ahead in life. Reception variables are studied to advance theoretical thinking about the influence of reality TV. Findings suggest that female emerging adults who perceive the lifestyles in reality programming to be realistic and desirable hold more stereotypical views of women and see greater value in social aggression. “First-person desire,” or a viewer’s desire to experience a reality TV lifestyle firsthand, proved theoretically important as an explanatory variable for the relationship between viewing the makeover and docusoap reality subgenres and the stereotyping of women and girls as socially aggressive. Overall, viewing of popular subgenres of reality TV produced unique results. Suggestions are made for future experimental work.

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