Dr. Michal Hershman Shitrit has completed her PhD dissertation on the predictors of reality TV participation

Dr. Michal Hershman Shitrit has successfully completed work on her doctoral dissertation under the supervision of Prof. Jonathan Cohen. The title of her dissertation is "Why do they do it? Predictors of Reality TV participation".


Over the past two decades, reality TV has become a prominent television phenomena and now occupies a prominent place in broadcast schedules world-wide (Hall, 2006). Not surprisingly, as reality TV increased in audience popularity, the attention of media research to this genre has also increased. In particular, studies have tried to define reality shows and understand why these shows have become so popular and how they may affect audiences (Nabi, So & De Los Santos, 2013).

The present set of studies seeks to focus on a different aspect of reality TV, one that has received little research attention: those who wish to take part in these shows. A few studies have examined reality TV participants and focused on their experience through retroactive self-reports (Aslama, 2009; Syvertsen, 2001) and on characterizing reality show stars as narcissistic once they were off the shows (Young &  Pinsky ,2006). The ‘ordinary people’ who show up at auditions in the hope of participating in reality shows have not received research attention. These people interesting in that they are trying to get on shows that demand that they withstand more than a few extreme trials, physical challenges, being cut-off from the outside world, invasion of their privacy and intense public exposure, and do all this on camera and in front of a large, heterogeneous audience.

The unique feature of this research is that it had access to the inner production process of reality shows that is usually closed off for researchers (Young &  Pinsky, 2006;    Aslama ,2009), and was able to interview these “celebrities in the making”. This study seeks to explore their motivations to participate in reality shows. Are these motivations related to the immediate features of the shows themselves such as the prizes offered and are they deterred by the extent of self-disclosure demanded by the shows (Andrejevic, 2004 ; Aslama, 2009). Or, are their motivations associated with personal characteristics that often explain human behavior in other domains? The characteristics studied herein include four important personality traits taken from “the big 5” personality theory (i.e., extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness; Costa & McCrae, 1992), and two specific personality traits that seemed apt for the reality TV context: narcissism (Kohut, 1971) and self-disclosure (Jourard, 1971). In addition, this study explored whether personal values, conceptualized according to Schwartz’s (1992) work, was related to the motivation to participate in reality TV. These variables were chosen as they offer probable explanations to the desire to participate in reality TV. They also may indicate whether deciding to go to auditions for reality TV is a personal choice preceded by a conscious and informed decision process (as would be indicated by a choice related to values) or whether this decision is primarily intuitive and spontaneous (which would be indicted if it was more closely related to personality traits). The study seeks to explore these questions by determining whether those who come to various reality TV auditions have different personality and values from those who do not.

The main research hypotheses related to several levels of explanation. At the immediate level, it was hypothesized that a positive association would be found between the value of the prize offered by a reality show and the motivation to participate in it, and a negative association would be found between the level of self-disclosure demanded by a show and the motivation to participate. At the level of personality, it was hypothesized that those who showed up at reality TV auditions would be rated higher than those who did not on extroversion and openness, and lower on agreeableness and conscientiousness. Because reality TV provides a context for self-disclosure, self-involvement and provides mass attention (Dubrofsky, 2011) it was hypothesized that those who want to participate in reality TV would be higher in narcissism and self-disclosure. Finally, it was hypothesized that those who showed up at reality TV auditions would value openness to change and self-enhancement more, and conservation and self-transcendence less, than those who did not go to auditions.

To test these hypotheses, two studies were conducted: Study 1 was an experimental study testing the willingness of experimental subjects to participate in a hypothetical realty TV show in which the value of the prize and the extent of necessary self-exposure was manipulated.  Study 2 was based on a survey of actual participants during auditions for various reality shows in an attempt to identify their characteristics and compare them to a demographically parallel group that did not participate in auditions.

Participants in Study 1 consisted of 154 students from social science classes at the University of Haifa. The experimenter presented herself as a producer of a reality show that was seeking potential participants (ethics approval 12/089). The manipulation of prize value and self-disclosure was included in the description of four randomly assigned alleged reality shows for which the experimenter was recruiting. The results of this experiment did not substantiate any effect of prize, disclosure or the interaction between these factors, on motivation to participate.

Study 2 included 413 respondents that were recruited by the researcher during auditions for the following Israeli reality shows: A Star is Born, Master Chef, Dating in the Dark, Big Brother and The Amazing Race. As a comparison to these respondents a demographically similar group that has never participated in such auditions was identified and they completed similar questionnaires. This group consisted of a class of non-traditional students (n=107) at the University of Haifa. Both the auditions and the no-auditions groups completed a questionnaire with 101 questions about their values (Schwartz Melech, Lehmann, Burgess Harris & Owens, 2001), personality traits (MaCrae & John, 1992), tendency toward self-disclosure (Miller, Berg & Archer, 1983), narcissism (Rasking & Hull, 1979) and demographic information including gender, age, education and profession. A hierarchical logistic regression (Alison, 1999) was conducted to examine the contributions of values and personality to predicting the participation in auditions and the differences between the two groups (auditions and no-auditions). Predictor variables were entered into the regression in three stages: Demographics, personality and values.

Findings indicate that men tend to participate more than women; Younger and more educated people are more likely to go to auditions than older less educated people. In terms of personality, findings were consistent with the hypotheses in that the audition group was more likely to consist of those rated high on extroversion and tendency to self-disclose and lower on conscientiousness, than the no-auditions group. In contrast to the hypotheses, the audition group was more likely to consist of those rated high on agreeableness and no significant differences were found on openness to experience and narcissism. In terms of values, findings were consistent with the hypotheses in that as compared to those who did not go to auditions, the auditions group rated openness to change higher, but in contrast to the hypotheses, no differences were found in conservation, self-enhancement or self-transcendence.            In addition, analyses show that overall, personality traits were a better predictor of attending auditions for reality TV than values. When personality traits were entered into the regression first they explained 12% of the variance, followed by values that added another 3% of variance.

In contrast to other studies that have tried to explore the behavioral effects of values versus personality by comparing how each set of characteristics predicted spontaneous versus more considered behaviors (Caprara, Schwartz, Capanna, Vecchione & Bararanelli, 2006; Roccas, Sagiv, Schwartz & Knafo, 2002; Segal, 2005), the present study wished to understand the nature of participating in reality shows (is it spontaneous or considered) by comparing the two sets of predictors. That the value of prizes and the extent of self-disclosure expected did not impact desire to participate, and that personality traits were a more powerful predictor suggest that the decision to go to auditions is relatively spontaneous, and does not necessarily include a careful analysis of costs and benefits.

The results of these studies have several practical and important ramifications. First, though media coverage makes it seem that the desire to participate in reality shows is universal, it is obvious from this study that this is not the case. As a proportion of the population at large, the number of people who show up for auditions is small, and in self-reports the level of desire to participate in (the hypothetical) realty shows was quite modest. Furthermore, that personality factors were more predictive of desire to participate in reality shows (compared to cost-benefit calculations or values) means that the agreement that potential participants give for their participation may have more to do with what they are, rather than what they aspire to be (Knafo & Spinath, 2010). Secondly, understanding the main motivations of those who wish to participate in reality shows may help regulatory agencies as well as broadcast organizations develop better selection processes for reality show particpation, and better articulate the demands and implications of such participation. An effort of this kind has recently begun in Israel (Swissa, 2013) and presenting information about the nature of the shows and their demands in a full and in a fair and public manner may help participants and perhaps even lead to a change in the relative weight of the motivations studied In this study. If such information will be more fully explained in the future it may be that cost and benefit considerations will be more prominent.

This study has several limitations. First, because of limits imposed by the production companies and the schedule of auditions for the various shows it was difficult to create a larger and more heterogeneous sample of shows. Second, because surveys were administered in the field it was crucial that the survey not be too long and thus some potentially relevant variables were not included.

Future research may take the findings of these studies and apply them to actual reality show participants rather than those wishing to participate (those who came to auditions). It would also be valuable to complement this study with a qualitative study that would conduct in-depth interviews with those who wish to participate to help understand the process that brings them to auditions rather than only the motivations.