Why Jersey Shore Drops the National IQ

Jersey Shore Cast

Stupidity appears to be contagious, and you can catch it from the media you consume. Researcher Markus Appel had college students read a story about a “foolish soccer hooligan” who got drunk, got into fights, etc., or a more neutral story without the dumb behavior. Subsequently, the students were given a general knowledge test. The subjects who read the story about the stupid character scored lower on the test than those who read the neutral story.

Media Priming

In short, reading about a dumb person made the students dumber themselves. Appel attributes this is due to “media priming.” By consuming media about a stupid person, the subjects were themselves pushed in that direction.

So, TV shows like Jersey Shore and movie like Dumb & Dumber render their audiences less intelligent, at least for a while.

The news isn’t all bad. First, most priming effects are short-lived, so as far as we know small doses of Snooki aren’t causing permanent brain damage. Second, the researchers also conducted a variation of the experiment in which the subjects reading the foolish hooligan story were told to think about the differences between themselves and the dumb character were more or less immune to the increase in stupidity.

So, be careful what you read and watch. Got a big test coming up? Perhaps watching An Incredible Mind or a History Channel special on Leonardo da Vinci instead of an old Jim Carrey flick would be a good idea. (Actually, the literature seems a bit mixed on the positive priming aspect; an older study that tested priming with “Albert Einstein” yielded lower test results.) The one thing that worked in Appel’s experiment was consciously analyzing the negative behavior in the story and contrasting with oneself; in some cases, these subjects not only resisted the stupidity priming but outperformed the control group. If you must watch movies or TV shows about dumb people, even if it diminishes your enjoyment a little, take a minute to think about their behavior and contrast it with your own.

Read the paper, published in Media Psychology, here: A Story About a Stupid Person Can Make You Act Stupid (or Smart): Behavioral Assimilation (and Contrast) as Narrative Impact.


This post was written by:

— who has written 985 posts on Neuromarketing.

Roger Dooley writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research to make advertising, marketing, and products better. He is the primary author at Neuromarketing, and founder of Dooley Direct LLC, a marketing consultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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17 responses to "Why Jersey Shore Drops the National IQ" — Your Turn


Fashion Photographers
Twitter: Meiniesmith
20. June 2011 at 11:07 am

As I read this I was thinking about some of my friends that could learn from this article, and hopefully they’d watch less garbage on tv. Then it hit me, my favorite shows are;

- Family Guy
- American Dad
- Futurama
- Basicallly everything on Comedy Central

But I feel I balance it out with a big dosage of Dicovery Channel.


Sean Arpin 28. March 2012 at 10:49 pm

Balance out stupidity with books. Not what the television prescribes to you.


Brain Supplements 20. June 2011 at 4:10 pm

I’m glad I got rid of my tv and am not exposed to all that rubbish anymore. Would there actually exist people that would take shows like Jershey Shore serious though?


Daniel Smith
Twitter: Daniel
20. June 2011 at 5:28 pm

This makes a lot of sense – I always tend to feel a lot more enlightened and intelligent directly after watching something intellectual, there’s definitely a case for the positive association.

Perhaps schools should start each class with some sort of TV stimulation!


Kim 27. June 2011 at 10:12 am

Very interesting article. I’ve believed this for a while. My grandfather had Alzheimer’s disease (different from being dumb, I know), and when I was very young I remember when he wasn’t working in the yard all he did was watch trash tv. My grandmother, on the other hand, was always reading instead and her 90 year old mind is as sharp as ever. I’ve always suspected the trash tv might have played a part in it (seems like never using your brain would cause you to lose it), and have never spent time watching dumb tv.


Roger Dooley
Twitter: rogerdooley
27. June 2011 at 10:50 am

There’s evidence that staying mentally active (as in challenging work), prevents or delays Alzheimer’s disease. I suspect that passive consumption of television, particularly junk TV, does nothing in that regard (though it probably doesn’t accelerate the progress either).



Wm Travis Stephens 10. July 2011 at 12:26 am

For the most part this is true. I wouldn’t say that watching the History Channel would be any better on the fact that we treat that information the same way; we take it in, process it and move on. Taking information in and engaging in further critical thinking are two different things. A gameshow or murder mystery I would speculate would keep the brain more active.


Cristina 16. January 2012 at 4:31 pm

I agree on low IQ thing. My brothers who watch it are dumb pot heads, no school or contributing to anything, all they claim they have and need is friends, or at least their idea of what they call friends, pot head group is what I call them. I mean they watch anything that has to do with stupidity. Now my own sisters, little sisters, ages 9 and 17 watch that peace of crap, now my mother is also into that crap, these are people who dont read and by reading i dont mean those stupid trashy hood,pornagraphic,biography by snooki books. I realize that people who like stuff like that are people who know nothing else. I mean every teenager are come across always have a conversation about sex,alcohol,drugs i include weed a drug sorry,never have conversation about something they learn from school, only sex is what comes out of their mouths, because that is all they know,what scary is that teens are know long who I hear talk about it, now elementary kids are caught having sexual contact in bathrooms,buses, and other, no their not talking about how boys have cooties or can i borrow your crayon, they are talking about he’s my boyfriend and we kisses at the bus. Its discusting to see how engrossed people get when watching jersey shore, my sister nearly cried when i deleted because i didnt want her watching it, no not my nine year old but my 17 year old sister. The girl refuses to read anything but when i do see her with a book, its some useless book about prostutution, gang violence. I am tired of looking at these reality shows, we only have one tv and everybody has a day when they watch, and i am forced to watch. I mean Im not saying I watch the discovery channel and history channel 24 /7 but why watch something where people are getting paid to act like idiots. Its not right for actors who are forced to make their own reality shows because everybody wants to see what goes on in real life, the whole point is to escape, fantasize of another life, not see what i already saw in high school, drinking,language dirty as hell coming from these kids and teaching staff. You want to know what people talked about in high school, they didnt talk about how they hope they go to a good college, or how they are gonna miss their friend, nope their talking about snooki this, situation that and knowing from how much my siblings talk about them, the jersey shore people might get a laugh out of that because in the end you got people who are supposivel educated promoting the show which is sad, these people who did not work their asses off to get into somewhere like movie, didnt wake up early in the morning to get to work, like the actual actors,directors,producers did.


Mandie 20. March 2012 at 6:43 pm

People watch shows and movies were people get paid to look like idiots because its called comedy :/ You know, that stuff that makes you laugh. Its called having a sense of humor. We watch this stuff to get away from the real world for a little while and just let our hair down and laugh. It helps relieve stress.


anon 20. March 2012 at 7:24 pm

I consider Jersey Shore to be comedy; unfortunately, most people take it seriously.


MyFavoriteStyles.com 20. March 2012 at 1:57 pm

The world is doomed in about 30-40 years.


Roger Dooley
Twitter: rogerdooley
20. March 2012 at 2:34 pm

That prediction would match Ray Kurzweil’s prediction in The Singularity is Near, MFS. Actually, he just predicts that robots/computers will be smarter than people at that point, not necessarily resulting in global doom. Terminator fans may have doubts about Kurzweil’s optimism, though. :)


Tauhid Mahmud 20. March 2012 at 5:58 pm

Hmm… The study done seems awfully simplistic…


Mandie 20. March 2012 at 6:33 pm

What i find even more funny is how this is a myth. I watch all kinds of “stupid” shows as you put it including Jersey Shore and my IQ is perfectly fine :/ My mom and Aunt watch it as well and they’re nowhere near stupid. Especially my Aunt who works with computers. As for the “all teens talk about is sex and alcohol” comment, that’s also a lie. I don’t drink, i don’t smoke, i don’t take drugs, i don’t even party, and I’m still a virgin (I’m 19 years old). And the only times i talk about that stuff is when I’m either making a joke or debating how much I’m against them. Did you ever think that maybe the kids are just raised that way and don’t have enough schooling? Shows like Jersey Shore is NOT the cause -_- Ive watched all 5 seasons of the show and never has my IQ dropped once. I think you and your little researchers need to calculate your answers again.


Simon Ramperty 20. March 2012 at 7:56 pm

@Mandie – How do you be so sure that nothing has been affected? Have you been running tests on yourself and family for the past five years? Saying that this article is flat out wrong based on your perception of an isolated case (yourself and family) really isn’t an intelligent means of disproving what’s been said here. Couple that with your sketchy grammar, spelling and capitalization, and then yourself again if you’re 100% sure watching “stupid” hasn’t affected your IQ.


Mandie 20. March 2012 at 6:44 pm

And you know what makes me laugh even more? Half the cast of Jersey Shore as finished college and have college degrees. Oh yeah i forgot, because its a reality show it automatically lowers your IQ.


Hurricane 21. March 2012 at 12:05 pm

I knew it. Trash TV shows cause this effect.
I wish they also made a study to prove that excessive hearing of cumbia also drops people’s IQ. Like, every cumbia song has got exactly the same rhythm, they have no deep lyrics and it’s like hearing a broken record for hours.

Thanks for spreading this info!


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3 responses to "Why Jersey Shore Drops the National IQ" — Your Turn