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Applied Evolutionary Psychology$
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S. Craig Roberts

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199586073

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199586073.001.0001

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Television programming and the audience

Television programming and the audience

(p.349) Chapter 21 Television programming and the audience
Applied Evolutionary Psychology

Charlotte De Backer

Oxford University Press

Why is television programming all about sex and crime, and why are we, as an audience, so addicted to this? In this chapter we explain how television shows, as modern artifacts, trigger our stone-aged emotions that evolved to deal with real-life situations. Mediated visual information emerged about 200 years ago, which in evolutionary terms is a blink of the eye. As a result, what we eye-witness is somehow processed, at a subconscious level, as reality eliciting feeling as if we are part of the observed scene (I-witness). Next, if what, and especially who, we see on screen reappears at a regular basis, it is no surprise that the repetitive activation of our old emotional responses to modern artifacts leads to the establishment of friendships, and other social relations, between audience members and onscreen characters. In addition, we also start to talk about these onscreen characters with real life friends, colleagues and vague acquaintance. Television stars have become the ‘mutual friend’ we share with everyone else in our increasingly scattered societies. And, from an evolutionary perspective, this addition to and gossip about the private lives of onscreen characters, is not much different from the storytelling tradition that is deeply embedded in our evolutionary history. The fact that we can vicariously learn how to deal with life-threatening and life-saving situations at a quick and cheap paste, explains why we are attracted to programs that deal with topics as sex and crime – that continue to top the list of most popular television shows.

Keywords:   audience studies, parasocial relationships, media gossip, storytelling, vicarious learning, star studies, mismatch hypothesis

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