They’re Not Really Guilty Pleasures


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

By Jaycen Eggleston

Shh, don’t tell anyone: my guilty pleasure is reality T.V. From “Say Yes to the Dress” to “America’s Next Top Model,” I’ve watched probably hundreds of people cause unnecessary drama for fun on the weekends. I wouldn’t say this guilty pleasure is a bad thing, though, and science doesn’t think so either.

According to Psychology Today, “Guilty pleasures are, by definition, something that we know we shouldn’t do but do it anyways because it brings us pleasure.” While there aren’t really lasting consequences to watching “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” most of our feelings of guilt as people come from how other people will react. Psychologists in 1992 and 1997 studied our feelings of guilt and they established that humans use guilt as a tool to determine when we have hurt other people. This stretches a little further to say that guilt tells us when we lose social standing. We call reality television a “guilty pleasure” because most of society doesn’t necessarily approve of T.V. shows like “Keeping up with the Kardashians.” Whether or not this is true — the ratings say enough people are watching that it’s worth it to produce the show — our perception of what others will think of us makes binge watching “The Bachelor” a guilty pleasure.

Whatever you like to watch on television, listen to on the radio, or eat isn’t something you should feel guilty about. In fact, that guilt might actually be lowering your belief in your self-control which is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to negative outcomes and weakening your willpower.

The emotions of guilt and pleasure are so entwined in people’s minds that sometimes the feeling of guilt emphasizes the pleasure someone feels while doing, watching, or listening to our guiltiest pleasures. Embracing our guilty pleasures instead of fighting or trying to change them may have a better result on changing bad habits and making you happier as a person. The BBC cites studies done at Northwestern University, the University of Canterbury and the University of Mainz to prove that our subconscious is more receptive to change when we embrace the habits we’re looking to change.

Shying away from your guilty pleasures actually appears to encourage you to seek them out. Psychologists don’t know exactly why, but in several studies they found those who were excited about food or the activity they were participating in were less likely to believe they had low self-control. The belief we put in our self-control creates self-fulfilling prophecies — events that occur because we say they will, like not studying for a test because you already know you won’t pass it anyway. These self-fulfilling prophecies then come true and you feel guiltier about the action, but you can’t really stop yourself from eating another piece of cake or watching “Project Runway” because you’ve already done it once, you might as well watch another episode.

Ignore the “might-as-well” attitude or don’t, most of our feelings of guilt stem from other people. In some cases this is because we use guilt to tell us when we’ve hurt another person, though in others it tells us we’ve lost social standing. Fear for your social standing shouldn’t stop you from enjoying what you enjoy because if your friends are going to judge you and like you less for watching, listening to, or eating the things you enjoy, then are they really your friends?

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