Want to put yourself in someone else's shoes? Turn on the Kardashians! Researchers say watching reality TV can trigger feelings of empathy and compassion

By Rachael Schultz
May 06, 2015

We've all done it-spent hours unintentionally emotionally invested in a marathon of Real Housewives or Keeping Up With the Kardashians. And we've all felt it-a little dumber for caring how the cat fight or hurt feelings turned out. Turns out, though, girl drama and other people's embarrassments may actually benefit our brain. (Although it's not so good for our body. Here's 3 Ways to Stay Healthier While Watching TV.)

When German researchers looked at brain images of people watching reality TV clips, they found that watching especially embarrassing scenes activated regions of the brain known for empathy, compassion, knowledge of cultural and social etiquette, and suppressing egocentricity. In other words, watching famous people cry, laugh, or squirm in discomfort can actually activate the parts of your brain that make you a more conscientious and empathetic person. (What else is happening while you zone? Your Brain On: Binge Watching TV.)

So why don't you feel like a better person after hours of E! and Bravo? Most of us are completely unaware of this effect. When asked how they felt, participants reported pretty modest levels of compassion for the people on TV (no judgment guys-it's hard to pity the rich and famous).

This study, which was published in NeuroImage, is interesting for more reasons than just assuaging your guilt over a "wasted" afternoon. Until now, emotions like embarrassment, shame, and guilt have been only associated with ourselves and our own reputations, points out Science of Us. Our capability to feel pain at another's suffering shows the depth of human emotion and empathy.

That's right-you're actually a better person after getting wrapped up in Kim and Kourtney's drama.


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