Jerry Springer and cigarettes

There’s a lot of talk show TV out there. And it’s very popular. Take, for example, The Jerry Springer Show, which has been going strong since 1991 and even spawned a spin-off opera. 

Why is it so popular? It’s simple if you think people “watch what they like and like what they watch”. But do they?
A recent paper from researchers at the University of Milano Biocca studies “The effects of arousing content on television consumption choices”. The idea of the study was to give people a choice of what to watch, observe their choices, and then ask them about how satisfied they were with what they watched. A few different programmes were on offer, ranging from “low-brow” talk shows with “verbal violence” to a serious documentary on immigration.

They suggest that their results show that, given a choice, people tend to watch more of the low-brow programming, but derive less satisfaction from doing so. People also say that they want to watch more of the high-brow programming, but seem to get distracted by sensationalism. So just like health, people’s long-term goals (smoke less, eat more lettuce) conflict with what they want to do in the short-term (smoke more, eat cake).

The paper goes on to state, somewhat melodramatically, of the participants in the study: “…as in Postman (1986), they appear to be amusing themselves to death.”

Sounds a bit sensationalist to me. Still, I guess you’ve got to do what it takes to get people’s attention.

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