Many people think that reality TV shows are popular because viewers like to see others degraded.

Such programs are often compared to the bloodthirsty, ancient Roman audiences who delighted in watching gladiators fight against lions. But a new University of Haifa study has found that this metaphor is a false one. Israeli TV audiences in fact get positive enjoyment from watching such shows and do not enjoy seeing others suffering or looking ridiculous.

Prof. Jonathan Cohen of the university’s communications department and his research student, Michal Hershman-Shitrit, investigated the issue but were aware of the fact that viewers would not easily admit it if they actually enjoyed others’ degradation. Instead, they overcame this problem by investigating how much viewers were themselves interested in participating in reality TV shows; they theorized that people who liked to see others look ridiculous or suffer would themselves not want to participate in such programs. As there could be other reasons for participating, such as becoming famous or winning an expensive prize, the researchers asked how willing they would be to allow close relatives to participate in such shows.

A total of 163 students aged 18 to 72, with an average age of 34, were asked a series of 12 questions on leading reality TV shows including Big Brother, SuperNanny, A Star is Born, Master Chef, Survivor, The Ambassador and The Race to a Million.

The first finding was that willingness to participate in reality TV shows was not high. On a scale of 1 to 7 (with 1 being not interested at all and 7 being very interested), the average score was 2.03. Of those who were willing to participate, enthusiasm was very high. “We are used to see queues of thousands of people who come to auditions, but you have to remember that these people are only a fraction of the population,” the researchers said. “The vast majority don’t want to take part in reality TV.”

When they examined the connection between the amount of pleasure derived from the show and willingness to participate, they found a direct connection, meaning that the more enjoyment people got from watching the shows, the more they wanted to participate in the shows.

This connection also held regarding whether they were willing to allow close relatives to participate. The link between pleasure from watching and willingness to participate was also relevant to other factors, such as how much TV they watched, how much they liked self-publicity, age and gender, and as the strongest predictor of whether they wanted to participate in reality.

“The findings show that whoever is willing to take part in reality TV shows doesn’t do it out of desperation or masochism, but from enjoyment of the show and its format,” they concluded.

ENGINEERS’ EXHILARATION

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s recent exhibition of students in the engineering sciences faculty – party of the Innovation 2013 conference held in Beersheba – was bursting with imagination and energy. Students Roi Nagar and Arel Nadav, working under the supervision of Dr. Rami Hajaj and Prof. Ehud Ben-Shahar, developed a robot that solves jigsaw puzzles. While such a robot is not very practical in itself, it could have applications with potential to benefit mankind, and does push the limit in the understanding of robot capabilities.

Other projects involved: a system for autonomous control of a subterranean robot; a system for reading lips of patients with a tracheotomy (breathing tube in their necks); how to teach a foreign language by watching films with subtitles and games; the examination of interface with infantry soldiers who get data from unmanned devices; running a parking lot using pictures; computerized analysis of facial expressions using computerized vision; an autonomous submarine; a device for rehabilitating patients after hip replacement; and a robot for locating rescue teams.

Google Israel CEO Meir Brand came to see the exhibits and came away very impressed by the engineering students’ explanations.

Hi-tech entrepreneur Yossi Vardi, who has been involved in the Innovation conference for years, said: “Every June, I set aside a whole day of my work schedule for the conference and go to see the end-of-year projects of BGU engineering students. Every year I return with optimism, excitement, amazement and hope. Hundreds of graduates stand at the doors of the various departments of BGU – communications, programming, robots, biomedicine, chemistry and others – full of energy and a glint in their eyes.

“The atmosphere is full of electricity. They demonstrate thinking, innovation and ideas. When I see them, I’m not afraid of China or India. It’s Israel at its best.”

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