Just as the viewing of violent movies or videogames can turn people nasty, so it seems that hours spent watching angry fictional drama protagonists cheating, bullying, deceiving and shouting at one another will also have evil effects.
The revelation that EastEnders and Coronation Street cause at least as much human misery as Grand Theft Auto or Barbie and the Three Musketeers comes from research carried out by researchers at Iowa State uni. According to Iowa prof Douglas Gentile, "relational aggression" of the sort seen so commonly on soap operas and suchlike TV fare is just as bad for the viewer as actual violence.
Relational aggression covers such things as being mean to other people, lying about them and so forth.
"Relational aggression tends to be considered more socially acceptable – it's often portrayed on television," says Gentile. "Yet, several studies are starting to show that relational aggression can cause long-term harm."
According to an Iowa State statement accompanying publication of Gentile's research:
Onscreen relational aggression – including social exclusion, gossip and emotional bullying – may prime the brain for aggression.
This might strike a chord with any Reg readers who may have found their significant others somewhat testy after a session watching their TV favourites cheating, deceiving and shouting abuse at one another.
Apparently Gentile and his colleagues pinned down their findings by means of showing several short films to 250 women. One film featured actual violence, another showed "relational aggression, where girls steal boyfriends, spread malicious gossip and kick someone out of their social circle".
The ladies were then tested for aggression levels, and sure enough the second film produced just as much aggro in them as the first.
"What this study shows is that relational aggression actually can cause a change in the way you think," says Prof Gentile. "And that matters because of course, how you think can change your behaviour."
Gentile and his colleagues have only confirmed the effect in women thus far. More research is needed, they say, to "determine whether their results are gender-specific".
The research is published, appropriately enough, in the journal Aggressive Behavior. ®