As viewers soak in this gossip-porn programming, they may alleviate any guilty feelings by telling themselves that they only watch because it's entertaining, and that they recognize how dysfunctional these subjects are. To a certain extent this may be true. Just because you watch a bully on TV doesn't mean you'll automatically become one. But there's a problem in letting yourself be entertained by shows that revel in narcissism, conflict, and aggression. Over time, we grow more accustomed to it, and as our familiarity towards something grows, so does our favorable attitudes toward it. (This well-established psychological fact is why you're peppered with advertisements all day long. Simply being familiar with a product or brand name makes you more likely to buy it.) Like a person who slowly picks up the mannerisms or accent of a new place they live, people are social creatures who can't help but incorporate into themselves the mannerisms that they are continually exposed to. Monkey can't just see. Sooner or later, the behavior we immerse ourselves in for several hours each day will also affect what teens do.
Television can also have a very immediate impact on conflict or peer interaction. Social psychologist Sarah Coyne, who has studied the effects of reality TV shows, has found that they are loaded with instances of situational aggression that can alter a teen's behavior. She and her colleagues from Brigham Young University found that watching a clip of relational aggression (a montage of Mean Girls) increased later aggressive tendencies in the study subjects. Not only did these students score higher on aggression tests, but they were more likely to act out aggressively to try to sabotage the job prospects of a researcher who was slightly rude to them while apparently having a bad day. So when kids watch relational aggression on TV, they become much more likely to carry that mentality with them into everyday life.
“Everyone's concerned about violence in the media, and they should be,” says Coyne, “but we're missing out on lots of violence out there. We need to look at these other types of aggression out there because we know that they're having an effect on aggression.” In support of the point we made earlier, she adds that television aggression is "almost always portrayed as justified, almost always portrayed as rewarded.” (Toppo, 2008)