The brain-image study by researchers at the University of Bonn, Germany, analyzed 30 participants who only watched clips of people humiliating themselves. The watchers developed the ability to feel ‘vicarious embarrassment’ for others, activating the parts of the brain that make us more empathetic—the four areas which deal with empathy, compassion, the suppression of ego, and social codes and rules.
Another 30 people watched neutral clips. Their brain scans revealed lower levels of empathetic activity. As an aside, that stands to reason. How could viewers show empathy about a neutral clip? Something like wildflowers, or diving amongst coral wouldn't trigger emotion.
In their report, the authors write that ‘reality TV formats with high vicarious embarrassment content activate brain regions associated with empathic concern and social identity’. Watchers are able to ‘put themselves in another person’s shoes’ more easily, the study said.
My daily events nurture compassion, kindness and empathy while I look after my ailing husband. Not only that, but constant calls to action keep me on my toes, figuratively speaking because each step I take causes considerable pain. Fate—so cruel. Right at the time I'm needed, my body rebels and seizes up.
At least I can still make quick decisions. In yesterday's emergency, I called a district nurse, despite my husband's reservation and constant arguments about the pros and cons of doing so. His catheter had fallen out, which I knew would cause trouble later in the day.
As luck would have it, or because those in charge recognized the severity of the situation, a wonderful, kind, empathetic nurse called in an hour later and saved the day. I'll bet she doesn't need to watch reality TV.
Love them or hate them—what do you think of reality shows?