Q&A with Jeremy Osborn

Albion College communication studies professor Jeremy Osborn has recently been receiving global attention for his research. He studied the correlation between relationship expectations and commitment levels with the amount of television people watch and believe.

The research is meant for individuals to understand the impact that media has on their particular relationships. Osborn studied 390 married couples, with the average age of 47, who participated by answering questions regarding their relationship satisfaction with their marital partners.

Osborn was first published in Sep. 2012 in Mass Communications and Society and since has been featured in more than 30 journals and magazines globally.

What is your research about?

What I was initially interested in was looking at the things people watch on TV, specifically ones related to romantic relationships and marriages and the negative impact that it had on their own marital relationship. If someone were to watch an episode of The Bachelor, a scenario where attractive people are put together in unrealistic situations, and that person is watching that every day, they might start to think that is the way normal relationships should work and would start to look at their own partners being less happy and committed to their relationships. I looked at two elements of TV:  How much people watch it and how much they believe in it.  On the relationship side, 390 married couples participated who assessed their relationship with marital partner. I asked them questions about rewards, how attractive is this relationship to you and  how satisfied
you are.

What were the results?

I found that if people believed in TV’s portrayal of romantic relationships, the higher scores on that write-up were correlated with lower marital satisfaction, which was shocking. It was discovered that the more people believe in the unrealistic TV scenarios, the more likely they will be unsatisfied with their spouse. These are not dating couples, but married people. The higher scores were also associated with the relationship being more costly and higher perception of attractive alternatives.

Would you say that TV contributes to divorce?

At some level, yes, but it is dangerous to say that it’s the main thing. We live in a divorce culture, where TV definitely does not help, but we always want to blame the media because it’s easy and a way of passing personal responsibility. But on the other hand, to completely say what we believe and watch has no responsibility, is also a mistake. Is it a contributing factor? Possibly. TV is not helping. But is it the main thing? No. I think the main contributor to the divorce rate is the misplacement of our expectations. Our culture has an idea that in order to get married there needs to be sparks and chemistry, but I think that’s societies fault as well. A marriage will not always be a grand romantic gesture. The reality is that your marriage will not always be like the honeymoon.

Do you think this research could also be applied to college students?

I looked at married couples because so much of the research we have done has been on college students.  To some extent, the environment that students live in and have your relationships is not what the rest of the world is like.  You are surrounded by potentially attractive and available alternatives. You may be wrapped up in someone one day, but then someone else comes around that you equally like and changes your mind. That is just not the case for most married people.  The idea is that if the results stand true for married people, who are in highest committed form of relationships, these results will also affect college students who are in less committed relationships.

Do you have any advice for us?

Yes, stop watching television! The big thing is if people continue to do research and correlate the same results, and if people are exposed to these outcomes they will become more savvy media consumers. I would give anyone the advice to be aware of what your expectations are, where they come from and how realistic they are. If you find yourself looking at your partner and you are not crazy about them, and you realize your basis of comparison is something fictionalized, you might need to take a step back and have some self-awareness. You might need to be a little more realistic. That’s not to say that people should sell themselves short and be treated, like, badly.  But if you are expecting grand romantic gestures in your relationship and you’re not happy because that’s not happening, maybe your expectations are warped. So take a step back and see how your expectations are being changed by the things around you.

I noticed you were published in Men’s Health, Cosmo and The Huffington Post.  How do you feel about the media attention?

It is kind of strange.  As an academic, you go through a lot of reviews and research just to be published, and usually it ends there. All this other media attention was completely unexpected and a little overwhelming. I found mentions of my research in Brazil, Bangkok, India, England, Cosmo, Glamour, New York, The Huffington Post, South Africa, Men’s Health and so many more. It’s been wild.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  You go from hoping someone in academias will read your article and think it’s interesting, but then a sexy topic slips out and it ends up everywhere in just two days. It’s unbelievable and intense.  I went from googling my name and seeing rate my professor and then seeing my name in different languages and websites. It’s been wild.


Photo courtesy of Albion College

About Jillian Putnam 34 Articles
Jillian is senior graduating in 2014 with a double major in English and Anthropology and a member of Alpha Chi Omega. She has a passion for travel and culture, hoping to pursue a career with National Geographic one day. Until then, she enjoys writing, cooking, and playing with her hedgehog. Contact her at jmp15@albion.edu, @JillianPutnam .

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