Reality TV, increasing the fear of better options?

Temptation Island and Fobo

Reality tv shows often display; love and sex, dysfunctional relationships, singles with tons of bed partners, or couples cheating on each other. Temptation Island covers all of the above. During the so called ‘social experiment‘, four couples are separated. There’s a house for men and one for women where participants will be surrounded by singles of the opposite sex, ready to seduce them. The show facilitates parties, day drinking and one on one dates to spice things up a little bit more. The couples are not allowed to have any form of contact with each other and to complicate the situation each participant will get to see video footage of their partner during their time apart. Eventually, the question is; if they will leave as a couple, decide to be single, or perhaps even head home with someone else.

Why are we so tempted to watch?

Statista reports that specifically the age group between 18 and 35, the so called Gen-Z and Millennials enjoy the drama and the mindlessness of reality tv shows. Everyone wants to relax after a hard day of working and thinking, and how better to do that than with a guilty pleasure, right? But when we want to relax we tend to forget the consequences or effects that may occur or maybe we aren’t aware of it at all when we choose to watch some drama on tv.

The liquid modern era

In his book The liquid modern era, Baumans states that relationships are fragile. Instead of working to cultivate Long lasting relationships and maintain a sense of Community and Connection, people stew focused on moving in To The Next Best Thing and always working to move forward and keep going, so that no relationship ever takes shape but instead is always liquid and not fully formed.  this Focus on the new Technics the latest results in a world Where Is very little meaning making and critical thought. instead an endless series of distractions.  if we can focus in various disasters and turmoil in other ppl lives it makes it easier to stay distant and removed from our own lives. Especially when we can choose to tune into the drama.

How do we process what we watch?

Bandura (1977) says people are self-developing, proactive, self regulating and self-reflecting in the social systems that they exist in. Humans have a capacity to understand their environment and also to create and influence events which affect them through the use of symbols. People use these symbols to process the experiences into cognitive models that serve as judgment and guide their actions. Does this mean that when we watch people surrounded with pleasure (still hungry for more), enjoying the temptation in their fear of a better option, we start satisficing in our own lives.

Fear of Better options

FOBO, is an acronym for the fear of better options coined by US venture capitalist and author Patrick McGinnis in 2003. FOBO seems to be one of the reasons for couples to partake in shows like Temptation Island. In the latest US season contestants were openly saying: “We have one life, I don’t want to waste in on the wrong person.”

“In order to have F.O.B.O. you must, by definition, have options. It is a byproduct of a hyper-busy, hyper-connected world in which everything seems possible, and, as a result, you are spoiled for choice”

Patrick McGinnis

The elaboration likelihood model

According to the Elaboration likelihood model of persuasion the peripheral route of processing information is used when the recipient of the message has a lesser ability to process this message (or has little or no interest in the subject).

When we veg out on the couch to watch reality tv, we already prime our minds to have less ability to process because that is what we are looking for. Does this mean we prime our minds to accept unwanted messages? When we watch people always hungry for more while surrounded by temptation and then falling for it, will that influence our decision making strategies?

Possible effects of watching mindless reality tv

While watching for entertainment and pleasure we are sometimes not aware that our minds are processing these messages. Always looking to reduce mental effort, we often use the peripheral route and thus rely on heuristics (mental shortcuts). When information is processed through the peripheral route, our brain is are more likely to rely on general impressions (e.g. “this feels right/good”), our own mood, positive and negative cues of the persuasion context. Being at the low end of the elaboration continuum, viewers don’t examine information thoroughly.

Dockery and Bedeian (1989) say watching tv is a social stimuli. Over a period of time the change in values can happen. This change in values may lead to change in attitude. Critics of reality shows like Temptation Island are afraid that this change in attitude may lead to a change in behaviour. They say that Temptation Island and similar shows “imply that the strength of the couple may weaken when being confronted with a few hot girls in bikinis; or that a strong bond like the one that unites a couple, can be dissolved by a tempting words whispered in one’s ear, an “unexpected” breakfast in bed, or even a tight hug, all ‘allowed’ because they are worth it, and they deserve it. They seem to use satisficing to put a stop to their feelings of FOBO (fear of a better option).


Herbert Simon (1955, 1956) introduced Satisficing as a decision-making strategy that aims for a satisfactory or adequate result, rather than the optimal solution over 50 years ago. He proposed that rather than maximize, you should “satisfice” when making decisions. That means selecting the first option that meets a given need or select the option that seems to address most needs rather than the “optimal” solution.

Even if reality tv would change our attitudes over time, because we process the information through the peripheral route, this change is less enduring and subject to change through future persuasive messages.

Fight FOBO with JOMO

Fighting off Fomo (fear of missing out) and Fobo (fear of better options) can be done with JOMO (the joy of missing out). Danish psychology professor Svend Brinkmann, describes that to reach the state of JOMO we need to learn to embrace limitation and self-imposed boundaries, this takes courage because our environment offers constant temptation.

We could also just be more aware of how we watch this content. Shrum, Wyer, and O’Guinn argue that heavy viewers are more likely to get influences, so maybe we should stick to moderately watching reality tv drama, just in case.



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