In more recent series of the X Factor a new challenge has been introduced that sees contestants battle it out for a chance to sit in one of six chairs on stage, thus winning a place to the next phase of the competition.  What happens when all six seats are taken?  In short, seemingly lucky contestants are booted off when someone ‘better’ comes along.  Similar to a thumbs down the audience, gladiator-style, cry out who they want to get rid of in favour of the next best act.  The challenge has been deemed ‘difficult to watch’.  Psychology can offer some insights.

Why do the audience behave this way?

Social psychologists have widely examined crowd behaviour and, put simply, have found we often act very differently in crowds as to how we would behave as an individual.  Social restraints and actions that would usually make someone feel guilt or shame, such as acting aggressively, are lessened when people are part of a group.  People are more likely to follow others, which could explain why chanting to boot a desperate hopeful off a reality show inside a full arena is easier done as a collective than as an individual.  Self-awareness is lessened, however, this can be diminished, for example the introduction of CCTV in football stadiums is said to have rendered a reduction in violence.  Nevertheless, there are people who are not negatively impacted by crowd effects – and thus, are still able to self-evaluate their behaviour.

Why do we watch reality TV?

Research into motivations to watch competitive TV shows suggests we are mostly enthralled by the possibility of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  Moreover, we are motivated to watch reality shows to satisfy some basic desires, including power, social status and vengeance.  Using vengeance as an example, reality TV may gratify this desire by way of enjoyment of competition, especially when riddled with struggle between competitors.  People who tend to avoid conflict and anger are more likely to avoid reality TV as these shows can represent competition in a negative way, often tangled with conflict.  This is true of shows such as the X Factor that pits people against each other, prime example being the six chair challenge.  However, it is not fair to propose that this is the only motivation present for people who enjoy reality TV.  Sociable people are significantly more likely to watch popular TV shows than non-sociable people as it is usually the topic of discussion between friends and work colleagues.

Are you enchanted or disenchanted by reality TV? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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