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Medical dramas not good for you

4th October 2010

Television programmes set in hospitals and medical settings can cause viewers to get increasingly anxious about their health, a new study has found.

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According to researchers at the University of Rhode Island found that while dramas like ER, House and Grey's Anatomy are extremely effective at heightening awareness of health issues, they could also be damaging viewers' enjoyment of life.

Television programmes of this kind have the power to shape people's attitudes and behaviours, according to the report, authored by Yinjiao Ye.

Ye said that medical drama fans were more likely to think they were suffering from one of the cases presented on their favourite programmes.

Also, too much time in front of the television could boost general dissatisfaction with life, which would offset the positive impact of learning more about health issues.

Medical television shows have always commanded large viewing figures, but people who watch a lot of Casualty, Dr Grey or House may not be gaining much overall from the experience.

Published in the journal Mass Communication and Society, Ye's report is based on questionnaires conducted with 274 students about their television viewing habits and their satisfaction with their lives.

Her report, entitled "Beyond Materialism: The Role of Health-Related Beliefs in the Relationship Between Television Viewing and Life Satisfaction Among College Students" concluded that too much health-related content can spark worries about health.

People who watched a lot of medical dramas and news with medical content reported that they began to worry about their own health and that of people they knew.

Ye suggested deliberate ignorance might be one way of avoiding the more extreme forms of hypochondria.

She said that the mass media was very powerful in disseminating health knowledge and changing health attitudes and behaviours.

But she said that television viewing of this kind made people overestimate the risks of ill-health for themselves.

As people became more knowledgeable, they started to enjoy life less, she concluded.

Previous studies on the psychological effects of television have focused on materialism in television and life satisfaction, finding that the presentation of others' affluence in the media can diminish people's satisfaction with their own lives.

However, Ye said such effects were also mediated by health-related perceptions formed from the media.

Ye's sample group were all university students, who were possibly less likely to have health-related fears than an older section of the population.


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