Study Shows How Girls Are Affected By Reality TV

by Amy McCarthy

Reality TV is everywhere, and everyone is watching it. Millions of Americans are tuning in to reality shows like American Idol, Jersey Shore, and The Bachelor, and young and teenage girls are no exception. 

According to a new study conducted by the Girl Scouts, 47% of girls call themselves "regular" realitygirl watching TV TV watchers. Of these shows, the competitive shows like Project Runway and "real-life" shows like Jersey Shore are the most popular. Among the statistics, though, were some troubling findings - it seems that reality TV is making our girls more self-conscious, competitive, and is profoundly affecting the relationships that they have with their peers. 

The Competition Factor

The vast majority of girls surveyed think these shows “often pit girls against each other to make the shows more exciting” (86%), “make people think that fighting is a normal part of a romantic relationship” (73%), and “make people think it’s okay to treat others badly (70%).

Beyond that, though, the girls who watched reality TV expected a significantly higher level of "drama" in their own lives. As opposed to their counterparts who didn't watch reality TV, these girls were significantly more likely to believe that: 

“Gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls” (78% vs. 54%);

“It’s in girls’ nature to be catty and competitive with one another” (68% vs. 50%); and

“It’s hard for me to trust other girls” (63% vs. 50%) 

Snooki & Self Image

There's no question that the media holds significant influence over the way that children and adults perceive themselves, and reality TV is no exception to that. With Jersey Shore character Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, for example, the star's signature hairstyle, known as the "Snooki Pouf" became a phenomenon. Reality TV influences more than hairstyles, though, as seen in these statistics:

Seventy-two percent say they spend a lot of time on their appearance (vs. 42% of non-viewers).

More than a third (38%) think that a girl’s value is based on how she looks (compared to 28% of non-viewers).

They would rather be recognized for their outer beauty than their inner beauty (28% vs. 18% of non-viewers) 

In contrast, though, these girls were more confident than non-reality TV watchers in almost every category, including seeing themselves as rolemodels and leaders, and personal characteristics like maturity and intelligence. 

Real Life 'Mean Girls'

As reality TV becomes more popular, girls are getting an even higher dose of "Mean Girls." Along with dealing with their own place in the social hierarchy, girls are seeing a startling equation for success in reality TV: Success = Meanness + Lying. The following statistics indicate that girls who watch reality TV believe some troubling things about success and how to get ahead:

“You have to lie to get what you want” (37% vs. 24%);

“Being mean earns you more respect than being nice” (37% vs. 25%); and

“You have to be mean to others to get what you want” (28% vs. 18%)

The Silver Lining 

The findings of the Girl Scouts' survey weren't all negative, though. The research shows that many times, girls are using reality TV to facilitate conversation with their peers and parents. In addition, they're learning about causes and issues that they may have never faced before: 

Seventy-five percent of girls say that reality shows have inspired conversation with their parents and/or friends.

Many girls receive inspiration and comfort from reality TV, with 68% agreeing that reality shows “make me think I can achieve anything in life” and

48% that they “help me realize there are people out there like me.”

Seventy-five percent of girls say that reality TV depicts people with different backgrounds and beliefs. Furthermore, 65% say such shows introduce new ideas and perspectives, 62% say the shows have raised their awareness of social issues and causes, and 59% have been taught new things that they wouldn’t have learned about otherwise. 

Posted October 2011 

Amy McCarthy is the editor and community manager at