NEXT UP ON this.
On the most recent season of The Bachelor, leading man Richie Strahan has wooed his prospective wives with chocolate baths, picnics, private swims and helicopter flights. While some viewers tune in for the spectacle of it all, others might wistfully hope their partners will one day perform such romantic gestures. But a little bit of psychological assessment highlights the fact that true relationship science can’t be applied to reality television.
Relationship scientist Gery Karantzas is a Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology at Deakin University. He says viewers of reality romance should exercise healthy levels of scrutiny. ‘There is definitely a science around mate selection,’ Karantzas points out, and says that reality shows such as Married at First Sight draw on some of that, but because of the environment that the participants are placed in, any science is overshadowed by the manufactured scenarios. ‘The reality is they’re put in situations that are strange,’ Karantzas says. And few situations are stranger than installing a group of bachelorettes in a mansion and giving them a series of entertaining challenges to complete as they vie for the bachelor’s heart.
‘These shows compress a relationship that would normally take two years to develop into four to eight weeks,’ he says and suggests that if you’re looking for love you’re unlikely to find it while pouring your heart out on national television. For example he highlights Married at First Sight, which has a one in four success rate, but the current marriage dissolution rate in Australia is 35 per cent, which means it underperforms against the national average. ‘The success rate is awful, no matter which show you choose,’ Karantzas adds.
As Karantzas points out in his recent article on The Conversation, those participating in shows such as The Bachelor, Married at First Sight or Seven Year Switch ultimately have their lives sensationalised for ratings. ‘My question is about the selection of candidates? Are we choosing people who are well adjusted? Should they be put in those positions?’ Karantzas asks. Whether they’re damaged couples looking to repair their connection or single people naively pursing love, audiences may see elements of themselves reflected in what they see. Karantzas says that vulnerable individuals and couples that are watching these shows may engage in ‘desperate measures’. He warns that no matter how much relationship science the show is allegedly rooted in, it’s not something to aspire to or take reliable insights from.
'My question is about the selection of candidates? Are we choosing people who are well adjusted? Should they be put in those positions'
If you’re waiting for your partner to charter a chopper and whisk you off to a remote beach, there’s every chance you’ll be disappointed. Setting romantic standards that are in line with budgets of commercial television stations is sure to disappoint. Karantzas suggests that viewers temper their expectations because what’s truly real about human intimacy isn’t dramatic enough to sustain the drama and tension of a television series. ‘The heart of relationships is mundane,’ he says and points out that real relationship issues are simple, daily worries like struggling to find a partner or juggling family and work.
He believes that television shows that claim to provide insights into relationships should be focusing on ‘up-skilling people’ so they come away with practical ideas about how to grow, sustain and improve day-to-day relationships. ‘I don’t know if it’s sexy enough for commercial television producers, but dealing with these things is where the reality lies,’ he concludes.
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