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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 24, Issue 1

TV Romance Can Affect Real-Life Marriage

People who believe that TV relationships are realistic are less likely to stay true to their spouse

Expectations for marriage come from many places—family life, past relationships, observations of other married couples. Now a study published last September in the journal Mass Communication and Society finds that television may also affect how we feel about marriage and our spouse.

Researchers at Albion College surveyed 392 married individuals, analyzing their television-viewing habits, belief in the portrayal of television relationships, expectations for relationships and feelings toward their own marriage. They found that participants who believe that couples on TV are true to life are less committed in their own marriage: their survey responses indicate they are more likely to cheat and less likely to stay in the marriage.

In addition, these participants measured their relationship “costs” as much higher than those who did not believe that TV portrayals are realistic. Relationship costs include feelings of lost personal time and an increased emphasis on a partner's unattractive qualities, explains Jeremy Osborn, study author and assistant professor of communications at Albion.

This is the first study to assess how attitudes toward television reveal feelings about one's own marriage, although previous research has suggested that television viewing is related to general perceptions of marriage and romance. In a study published in 2006 in the Journal of Communication, researchers found that college students who frequently watch romantic-themed shows are more likely than other students to believe that their partners should know their innermost feelings and that their wedding day will be the happiest day of their life.

Osborn hopes his research helps couples take a hard look at where they are getting their expectations for their relationship and whether television is reinforcing unreasonable beliefs. “The biggest factor contributing to divorce is going into marriage with unrealistic expectations,” Osborn says.

Correction (3/15/13): The text was edited since the original posting to correct study author Jeremy Osborn's name. In the original, he was misidentified throughout as Jeremy Olson.

This article was originally published with the title "Television Romance and Real-Life Marriage."

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