“Jerry, Jerry, Jerry” Everyday, this chant is heard by millions of people watching the now infamous “talk show”, Jerry Springer. Even though just a few years ago, most people regarded these shows as ridiculous, now this chant is recognized and adored by many people in society. The most parsimonious explanation for this is that the shows now have more interesting and captivating topics. The premise of most episodes of these shows has changed greatly over the past few years; The topics have moved away from large scale social issues, like homosexuality and cancer, to relationship and familial issues, like adultery and mothers who are too flirtatious with their daughter’s boyfriends. Many people would argue that the issues being presented now are not as interesting or captivating as the older issues. However, after watching an old episode and a new episode, most people agree that the emotions displayed by the guests in the newer shows are more visible, with actions such as onstage yelling and fighting. The general emotional content of the episodes has changed from sadness to anger. From a psychological standpoint, there are many influences that cause extreme anger to be displayed by the guests on “talk shows”.
Imagine being a guest on the Jerry Springer show, as you walk onto the stage you see the large audience chanting those infamous words. You sit down next to your fiance not knowing what to expect, you are nervous and anxious. Finally, Jerry says those terrible words, “So, don’t you have something to tell your fianc?” She turns to you, looks into your eyes and says, “Remember about a month ago when I disappeared at that party at your house?Well, that night your brother and me left the party early. I’m sorry, I have been sleeping with your brother for the past month.” Suddenly, the anxiousness that you experienced is gone and replaced by anger, intense anger. You turn to Jerry as he asks you, “Wow, she has been cheating with your brother, how does this make you feel?” Your anger only gets more intense, you ramble to your ex-fiance and ask her how she could do such a thing. Again, Jerry interrupts the moment and yells into the microphone, “Alright lets get the brother out here!” As you see your brother walk through the door, you again hear that irritating chant echoing through the crowd. You jump to your feet and go after your brother, within seconds you are pulled away by security guards and forced to return to this humiliating situation. Soon enough, you are too angry to talk, you simply scream obscenities at your brother and ex-fiance. It seems like every word Jerry says makes you angrier and angrier, and all the while Jerry Springer’s ratings are soaring through the roof. There are many psychological explanations for this increasing anger experienced by the guests on a talk show.
It is a well-known psychological observation that questions can be phrased in different ways eliciting different responses. A study conducted by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman displayed that the same question phrased in two different ways to the same person can receive two different results. Interviews or surveys often use this framing effect to try to get the response that is more favorable for the interviewer or surveyor. Based on this discovery, it is reasonable to assume that the framing of a question can also affect the emotional response that is elicited by the subject. Knowing that there is a strong correlation between the anger of his guests and the ratings he receives, Jerry Springer can use this framing effect to his advantage. By framing questions in a certain way, Jerry can intensify the anger of his guests. Often, when Jerry asks a question to his guests, he tends to include words with strong negative connotations. For instance, in a topic like the one presented above, Jerry tries to use words like “cheating”, “sneaking” and “lying”. Jerry also phrases the question in such a way to evoke anger in his guests. He typically asks questions like, “Can you believe that your fiance and your brother would go behind your back like that?” The question is framed in such a way that any answer given to it would evoke or intensify anger. A “no” answer increases the feeling of surprise and causes the guest to think to himself, “How could they do such a thing?” A “yes” answer could mean that the guest may have noticed something going on between his fiance and brother before the show. Yet, it is more likely that the guest has fallen prey to hindsight bias.
Hindsight bias is the inclination to remember things in a certain way based on information obtained later. So, in this situation the guest, now knowing that his fiance is cheating, will remember anything that seemed awkward in the weeks approaching the show. Although these moments may not have been very common, they will now stick out in the guest’s mind. The guest will tend to recreate many of his memories of the past few months based on this new information. He may interpret common events with no major emotional value as strong signs of his fiance’s cheating. As he thinks about these memories, his anger towards the situation will increase greatly. Jerry is able to cause a great increase in the anger felt by the guest by framing the question in a certain way. Besides Jerry’s questions, though, many factors influence the emotional content of the show.
When a guest enters the stage, there are hundreds of people looking down chanting and cheering. When placed in such situations, in front of large crowds, people tend to feel nervous. Their heart rate, breathing rate and production of sweat all increase due to the reaction of the sympathetic nervous system. Based on the Schachter and Singer theory of emotion, this helps to explain why the emotions displayed in the shows are so intense. Schachter and Singer believed that the intensity of emotions are determined by the intensity of the physiological state, but the emotion itself is determined by the situation. As explained earlier, the situation that the guests are put in is definitely an angering situation. Therefore, when the guests are placed into the angering situation, their sympathetic nervous system has already been aroused and the intensity of the anger is much stronger than it would have been otherwise. The participation of the audience, with shouts and cheers, tends to increase the intensity of the anger even more. So, these guests are manipulated psychologically to deal with difficult situations with even more anger than they would display normally.
To make matters worse, when the guests try to fight they are torn apart by security guards. Yet, they have enough time to activate a fight response; their sympathetic nervous system is aroused greatly, releasing a great deal of adrenaline causing an even greater increase in heart rate and breathing rate. This intensifies their emotions in multiple ways. First of all, the physiological state is further intensified, corresponding to even stronger emotions of anger. Yet, along with this, there seems to be a great deal of frustration evoked in the guest. Based on the frustration-aggression hypothesis, frustration causes aggression. In other words, failure to obtain something causes raised aggression. In the case of the guests, their failure to get revenge or resolve out of the issue causes an even greater feeling of outrage. All of these factors cause the guests on the Jerry Springer Show to elicit strong emotions of anger and violence.
Although the talk show was created as a way for people to share their problems with society and try to resolve them in a group situation, now it has become simply a quest for more money. The Jerry Springer Show simply causes more anger and disappointment in situations that are already very difficult for people to deal with. Many psychological influences affect the guests on talk shows into becoming much more angry than necessary. Rather than solving any of the problems discussed, shows like Jerry Springer tend to create a great deal of tension. Jerry is able to manipulate his guests into intense anger; since the general population would rather watch anger and violence, rather than peaceful resolve, the Jerry Springer Show is greatly benefiting from the strong psychological influences on the guests.