Television critics and armchair critics alike have noticed something about television shows these days: infidelity is everywhere. From “Homeland” to “The Good Wife” to “Mad Men” and even to “The Walking Dead,” it seems most programs feature some amount of infidelity. Sometimes cheating is the main focus of the show, while in other cases, it is simply a sidebar to the primary plot. What does all of this mean for infidelity in real life?
Is TV Fueling Infidelity?
Are television writers simply reflecting the realities of modern life, or do they have the power to influence the way we behave?
Television And Behavior
When it comes to how television influences behavior, much of the discussion has focused on children and things like violence and aggression. There is plenty of scholarly research that suggests watching television and other types of media have an influence on the behaviors of children. Numerous studies have found that violent television programming makes kids behave more aggressively, that seeing sex on TV can influence teens to become sexually active earlier and that TV influences how young people view social roles.
What is not clear is how television impacts adults. It is assumed that as fully-formed adults, we can watch programs and not be influenced by what we see. As a result, there's almost no research to tell us if this is really true. If you believe that advertising works, then it would seem silly to assume that television programming has no impact on how we, as adults, behave in the real world.
The Rise In Infidelity?
It seems like cheating is everywhere, but is it really more common than in the past? Getting exact and reliable numbers on how many adults have affairs or commit an act of cheating is difficult. It relies on self-reporting, which is notoriously unreliable. When surveyed, participants are not always honest, even when the results are kept anonymous. Informal surveys put cheating rates somewhere between 25 percent and 70 percent for women and 40 percent to 80 for men, which are pretty wide margins. More scientific analyses of cheating report that any relationship has a 25 percent chance of experiencing an incident of infidelity. The numbers are varied and inconclusive.
Can TV Cause More Cheating?
While some news sources will claim that infidelity is on the rise and, in fact, a modern epidemic, the statistics don’t tell such a clear story. We may be talking more about infidelity, and that may create a greater awareness, which in turn leads to more television shows featuring affairs. If we’re talking about it, then surely TV will follow suit. Another factor in the discussion that can’t be ignored is the Internet. Being online makes it easier to cheat than ever before, but this doesn’t necessarily mean we are doing it more often.
The other side of the equation is the question of TV’s influence on our behavior. If we see more cheating on television, will we do it more often? It’s hard to say, but what is known for sure is that television does a good job of glamorizing and normalizing bad behaviors. On TV shows, cheating looks sexy and easy. The glamorization of infidelity could have an impact on how we behave. And when we start to view a behavior as normal, it surely has an effect on the choices we make. There's a lot of uncertainty in this debate, but one thing is clear: your relationship is yours to shape. If you have a happy and healthy relationship, infidelity should be the last thing on your mind or your partner’s.