*Warning: The facts in this post may or may not be true. Have fun!*

Reality television. The usual setup is a group of people in a limited area that has been flooded with camera angles. Supposedly this means that everything you see is unscripted. Yet it is not unusual for these “unscripted” voyeur’s paradises to actually be scripted. At least between small groups of two to three of the contestants. Oh yeah. Did I mention that these “reality” shows are often little more than elaborate contests? I guess in the producers’ realities, life is one big game show. Though in Hollywood, this may very well actually BE the case. I wouldn’t know.

So who watches these pseudo-reality shows? Lab mice. That’s right. And if any of those lab mice are reading this, your lab needs to be nominated for the Nobel Science Prize. Anyway. Why would we want to see the effect of these shows on lab mice? I’m not sure, myself. But scientists have grown extra ears and eyes on mice in order for the mice to be able to watch multiple shows at once. My only viable hypothesis is seeing how long it takes for the mice to begin confusing reality with fantasy.

This hypothesis seems to be on track, though. I’ve seen reports of mice gathering in groups. Shortly after one group broke up, they began digging in their cedar chips, aiming the flying debris at other groups. All except one. That one huddled in the corner and rocked back and forth while squeaking pathetically.

So how does this show confusion between reality and fantasy? By flinging cedar chips (one nasty little guy had chosen to fling his cedar chips from a communal “relief” area) the group shows: 1) a tendency to act in ways not usually acceptable in mouse society, 2) the desire to sabotage the other mice over some meaningless television, and 3) that those who fling chips first do so in order to spread their shit.

Longitudinal studies show that mouse society can change in only one generation. That’s right, it only takes one generation of watching reality television to change what is acceptable in mouse society. The control society has a mouse population that is, if not always polite, at least functional for the purposes of long term survival both of the individual and the culture.

Test group A (same season of Castle of Desire over and over) began identically to the control group. Halfway through their pre-mating life, test group A mice began showing signs of specialized cliques. By the time they were ready to mate, the mice in group A had learned the fine art of backbiting. In one recorded incident, one mouse had covered another, but then a third came up and sank its teeth in the ear growing out of the back of the mouse on top and pulled him off. This third one then covered the female while the first male shivered in a corner and moaned to the others. By the time the second generation of test group A grew up, they appeared to be sex obsessed. Even to the point of dysfunctionally ignoring basic needs such as food and water.

Test group B (as group A with the addition of Revivor) also began identically to the control group. The progression of change was initially slower than group A; however, the changes were more marked and more socially dysfunctional. Not only were the second generation mice sex obsessed, there were several deaths. Presumably, the mice assumed that, as in Revivor, those who were “killed” would stand up and leave the location permanently.

This study shows that reality television can turn a social group from functional, if occasionally brutal, to one where every individual is sex obsessed AND scores high on borderline personality tests. What would be interesting would be to see if this process could be reversed. Perhaps by exposing subsequent generations to PBS?

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