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Listed below are selected abstracts taken from some of the studies I have conducted that are focused on TV talk shows.

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     Two studies using distinct methods focused on affective gratifications obtained from watching TV talk shows.  In study one, respondents recorded thoughts and feelings as they watched a talk show in their homes.  Results suggested esteem benefits from viewing were related to derogation of the program's guests.  In study two, subjects were randomly assigned to view a show in which downward or upward comparison opportunities were available.  Results from the second study again showed affective benefits from viewing talk shows.  These results, along with others, are discussed in the context of implications for future research.

  • Frisby, C. M.  (1997, December).  "WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN:" THE SELF-ENHANCING EFFECT OF WATCHING TELEVISION TALK SHOWS."  An Abstract of the Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.  Chairman: Dr. Michael F. Weigold

          Daytime talk shows have been neglected as a focus of inquiry in mass media research.   However, talk shows are a popular vehicle and may satisfy viewers' needs to feel better about themselves.  Self-enhancement, or feeling better about oneself and one's life, may be one of the primary reasons people watch what some consider to be "trashy" TV talk programs.  An experimental 2 (comparison: upward vs. downward) x 2 (self-esteem: high vs. low) x 3 (feedback: positive vs.  negative vs. none) x 2 (time:  pre-social comparison opportunity  vs. post-social comparison opportunity) factorial design was used to evaluate predictions made from social comparison theory.

             Changes in mood and life satisfaction scores from the pretest to the posttest were used to measure the effects of exposure to particular comparison targets on an individual's attitude and affective state.  Data obtained suggest that high self-esteem individuals felt better and experienced greater benefits after exposure to downward comparison targets.  No support was found for an expected relationship between threat and downward social comparisons.   It appears that threat may not be necessary for people to benefit from self-enhancing comparisons.  The data suggest that downward social comparison may be more prevalent than upward comparisons. Results of the study are used to speculate about the functions of television talk shows and may help to explain the popularity of this popular program genre.  One implication of the study is that research could provide insights into the processes that motivate television viewing preferences and program choice.  The theoretical and societal implications of these results are discussed, as are the future directions for research in social comparison theory and media consumption.

Geraldo Rivera
  • Frisby, C. M.  (1998, August).  "Can Social Comparison Theory Explain Viewer Fascination with TV Talk Shows?"  A manuscript accepted for presentation at the AEJMC annual convention to be held in Baltimore, Maryland.

                "As we watch, listen, and are entertained, TV talk shows are rewriting our cultural scripts, altering our perceptions, our social relationships, and our relationships to the natural world. TV talk shows offer us a world of blurred boundaries. Cultural distinctions between public and private, credible and  incredible witnesses, truth and falseness, good and evil, sickness and irresponsibility, normal and abnormal, therapy and exploitation, intimate and stranger, fragmentation and community are manipulated and erased for our distraction and entertainment. " Quote taken on 5/28/98 from the web site of Dr. Vicki Abt, a sociology professor and TV talk show critic

Mass media commentaries suggest that television talk shows are dramatically increasing and have become quite popular with American viewers.   Despite the public's interest in TV talk shows, mass media researchers have paid little attention to assessing the short-term and long-term effects of watching these programs.   In addition to encouraging violence and aggression, critics feel that television talk shows distort reality.  Despite what many talk show hosts and fans believe, many critics of TV talk shows believe that these programs do not reflect the real world or the true context of American life.

Recent audience ratings revealed that Jerry Springer is now the number 1 talk show in the United States.   Why?  Why is it that Jerry's "Too Hot for TV" video is selling by the millions?  It is hypothesized that self-enhancement or feeling better about oneself and one's life may explain why people watch what some consider to be trashy, morbid TV programs. The article reviews social comparison theory, defines the social comparison process,  and provides ideas and research techniques for future research that could be used to test the idea that consumers might use certain media to engage in social comparisons with media images.



Copyright© 1998 Dr. Cynthia M. Frisby,
Univ. of Missouri, Missouri School of Journalism,  Dept. of Advertising


One of my favorite quotes:
Yesterday is a cancelled check;
tomorrow is a promissory note;
today is the only cash you have,
so spend it wisely.
-Kay Lyons