What's Your Reality? (And what does it say about you?)

I'll admit, I love me some reality TV. At first it was a bit of a dirty little secret -- I knew I shouldn't. But after the first season of The Apprentice, an addictive run of American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, America's Next Top Model, and a few random go-rounds with The Bachelor and Dancing With the Stars, I have to admit it: Reality rocks. There, I said it. Even so, I draw the line at certain genres of reality television. (As if my choices are the highbrow choices.) Which begs the question: What does your choice of reality TV say about you?

Fear Factor: You were bullied in junior high school and this feels like payback. Or: You were the bully in junior high school and you haven't changed. Jerk.

The Bachelor/The Bachelorette: You are an optimistic romantic and yearn for love of our own. Or: You are a crass voyeur and like to see people make out a lot.

Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?: You are a 5th grader and you are smarter than most adults you know. Or: Watching adults who are dumber than 11-year-olds makes you feel just a little bit smarter.

Moment of Truth: You don't like people much, so watching them humiliate themselves is just funny. Or: You're a cultural anthropologist and you're fascinated by what people will do for money. See also: Fear Factor.

Survivor: You want to be the next co-host of The View, and, hey, it worked for Elisabeth Hasselbeck. Or: You've done South Beach and the no-carb thing, and you're ready to try the island diet. Hey, it worked for Elisabeth Hasselbeck.

American Idol: You have big rock-star dreams that will never come true. So you had a bad day... Or: You are 12. Or 55.

Now that you know who you are, let's break it down, scientifically. Some critics believe that reality TV promotes a culture of exhibitionism and voyeurism. Others say it's all about schadenfreude -- a psychological phenomenon that basically means you derive joy from the misery of others. Oh, but that's not me, you might say, with righteous indignation. Methinks, perhaps, the lady doth protest too much.

I read about an experiment at Ohio State University where they assessed the appeal of reality TV by asking adults to rate themselves on each of the 16 basic motives. This one was all about how people generally prefer television shows that stimulate feelings they intrinsically value the most. The upshot? Peeps who watch reality TV have a higher-than-usual need to feel self-important and, to a lesser extent, vindicated or free of morality. That's right. They're basically saying reality TV lovers are immoral, stuck-up bastards.

Oops. Didn't mean to judge. Now, I'm not saying you need therapy, and you might even turn the tables on me and say that I need therapy for spending my time thinking about these things. And you might be right. But we're talking about you right now, OK?

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