This is the fourth in a series of
articles summarizing the research that established the Reiss Motivation
Profile® as “The Science of Motivation®.”
Professor Steven Reiss’s theory of motivation predicts that individuals
should prefer to watch the television shows that arouse the joys most
important to them. For example, people who have a strong desire for
Social Contact should be particularly interested in programs that
portray friendship and fun, while people who have a strong desire for
Vengeance should especially enjoy shows featuring conflict and
competition. If the theory of 16 basic desires is valid, it should be
possible to develop motivational profiles of viewers of particular types
of television programs.
Using the RMP, Professor Reiss and his colleague James Wiltz studied the
motives of viewers of reality television programs, defined as shows in
which ordinary people – not professional actors – are the main
characters. They predicted that the viewers’ rank ordering of the 16
basic desires would be significantly different from normative rankings.
Further, they predicted that the more reality television shows watched,
the greater would be the difference between the motivational profiles of
the viewers and those of a normative group.
The subjects were a diverse group of 239 adults (167 women and 72 men) who were recruited from three sources.
In addition to completing the RMP, subjects were asked to rate their
enjoyment of a variety of activities such as travel, sports, music, and
reality television shows. The questions about reality television were
embedded in a more general survey of leisure activities so as to
disguise the researchers’ true purpose. Subjects completed the
questionnaires anonymously and individually.
By far, the largest significant effect was for the Status motive. The
mean standard score for Status for people who enjoyed reality television
was significantly higher than that of a normative group. Further, the
more reality television shows a person liked, the higher was the
person’s score on the RMP Status scale. These findings confirmed the
The second largest significant difference concerned the Vengeance
motive. People who enjoyed reality television shows scored higher on the
RMP Vengeance scale than did people who did not watch such shows.
Significant but small differences were found for the motives of Romance,
Social Contact, Honor, and Order. Compared to people who did not watch
any reality television programs, individuals who liked two or more
reality television shows tended to be more motivated by romance, peer
companionship, and structure – and less motivated by morality.
Why would people with a strong need for Status watch more reality
television shows that do people with an average or weak need for this
basic desire? The basic desire for Status is defined as the desire for
respect based on social standing. Individuals with a strong desire for
Status like to feel important, are impressed with fame and popularity,
and often embrace materialistic values. The message in reality
television – that millions of people are interested in watching the
experiences of ordinary folks – implies that ordinary people are
important enough to become celebrities, a message that should resonate
with individuals who score high on the RMP Status scale.
Why would people with a strong need for Vengeance watch more reality
television programs than do people with an average or weak need for this
basic desire? The basic desire for Vengeance is defined as the desire
to confront those who frustrate or offend us. Individuals with a strong
desire for Vengeance are combative, enjoy competition, and place great
value on winning. Reality television shows portray people who are
engaged in competitions, focused on winning, and often in conflict with
others, themes that should resonate with individuals who score high on
the RMP Vengeance scale.
The study was successful in identifying the typical motives that
characterize viewers of reality television. The broader implication,
though, is that the RMP can be used to develop reliable motivational
profiles of viewers of particular types of television programs. The
significance of the study, therefore, is its suggestion of a valid
methodology for conducting productive research in the fields of mass
culture and communications.
Maggi M. Reiss, President
IDS Publishing Corporation
For more information, click the link to read:
Reiss, S., & Wiltz, J. (2004). Why people watch reality TV. Media Psychology