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Talk Shows and Soap Operas Make You Stupid? Or Do They Just Indicate That You Are Losing Your Cognit


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This piece originally appeared on March 21, 2006, on the Convergence Culture Consortium from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Sam Ford blogs weekly there about soap operas in relation to fan cultures and innovative storytelling and marketing campaigns, in addition to blogging about many other new media issues updated multiple times daily.  You can visit his blog here.

For those of you who follow my posts here on the C3 site regarding soap opera, and for those of you who care about the way television is viewed in general, you'll love this gem that was published yesterday evening in a story by Amy Norton on Reuters about an upcoming study to be published in the Southern Medical Journal.

A test proves that watching talk shows and soap operas is somehow tied to "poorer mental scores" in the elderly. Although a causal relationship can not yet be identified, the test indicates that those elderly people who chose "talk shows and soap operas" as their favorite programs tended to have lower cognative abilities than those who chose news programs, for instance.

I don't even think I have to respond for you to know what I think, but I wonder how "talk shows and soap operas" can be considered a category of television in the first place, or if a lot of other factors should be taken into consideration--for instance, as has happened with wrestling in the past, many viewers with a higher education level are less likely to admit their passion for genres like soap opera and talk shows (two separate genres, again, which the study does not distinguish between), even if they are, in actuality, one of their favorite shows.

Among my favorite quotes:

Dr. Fogel, who led the study, says that a preference for talk shows and soap operas "is a marker of something suspicious" in the health of patients and encourages doctors to ask elderly female patients about what might be their favorite TV shows as a way to indicate potential cognitive decline.

Considering, the constant switches, the intricate plots, and the sheer number of characters you have to keep up with, I have a hard time believing that mastering a soap opera can lead to cognitive decline. But I guess we should be happy that people have found such a great new use for television--as a way of proving a lack of brainpower depending on what people's favorite programs are.

Dr. Fogel hypothesizes that elderly people who are losing their thinking power watch soaps and talk shows because of the "parasocial relationships" that the shows encourage, so that people who can't think as clearly can revel in the emotional connection they feel with soap characters and talk shows and can thus pay attention, despite their diminished mental capabilities.

Fogel says that this doesn't mean these shows are bad for you but rather than they could signal "a possible problem."

But don't worry. Fogel finds that, while watching talk shows and soap operas might indicate diminished mental capacities, there might be some television programming out there that can benefit the intellect and help viewers manage stress.

Good. I was starting to get concerned that all our studies were for naught.

Thanks to Jenny on the As the World Turns Media Domain message board for posting the link to this story there.

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