Did you count down to the Royal Wedding? Obsess over Kate Middleton's dress? Take on a British accent for a hot second?
According to a new study, people who watch reality wedding TV—from Bachelor weddings to Say Yes to the Dress to the royal shindig—tend to romanticize love and marriage more than the rest of us cynical folks. No huge surprise there, but interestingly, these starry-eyed romantics may actually enjoy happier relationships in their real lives.
"There is evidence that holding romantic beliefs can be beneficial to a relationship in terms of satisfaction and longevity," said Veronica Hefner, an assistant professor in the department of communication studies at Chapman University, and author of the paper.
Hefner reached her conclusions through two mini-studies: the first focused on the wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton and the second on reality wedding TV more broadly.
Study no. 1: Who watched the Royal Wedding?
The 2011 marriage between Will (the dreamy prince) and Kate (the commoner) attracted more than 24 million American viewers, and Hefner wanted to find out why—as well as whether those who watched might harbor more romantic ideals about love. Specifically, whether viewers (1) believe that love conquers all, (2) believe in the concept of a soulmate or "the one," (3) believe in love at first sight, and (4) idealize their partner.
For the study, 112 mostly female participants aged 22 to 70 answered questions about the Royal Wedding (Did they watch? Why did they watch?), the royal couple (Did they view their wedding as a fairytale?), and their own personal romantic beliefs. At the end of the study, Hefner discovered that people with stronger romantic beliefs had a greater interest in watching the Royal Wedding. They also held more positive views toward the royal couple, believing they had a fairytale romance.
Of the people who watched, a quarter said they did so to watch a fairytale unfold in real life. "The royal wedding incorporates two types of American ideals: the fairytale story of a prince and princess, and the idea that marriage is the ultimate expression of love," Hefner wrote in the study.
This sentiment could carry over into the current obsession with royal babies as well. "Any feature of a relationship that can enhance that perception (wedding, rings, children) will add evidence that a relationship is thriving and flourishing—thus, fulfilling the romantic ideal," Hefner told Fusion.
As for participants who didn't watch, most said they were not interested for personal reasons (such as not caring about entertainment "news" or the British family); it was inconvenient; or they considered the wedding overhyped. As one participant wrote, "I also think it was a tremendous waste of British tax payers' money.”
Study no. 2: Who watches reality wedding TV?
For the second study, Hefner recruited 236 participants (also mostly female) to answer questions about reality wedding TV as a genre. Specifically, she polled participants on whether they watched 28 wedding reality shows on the air at the time—from Say Yes to the Dress to Bridalplasty—and how often. She also asked them about their personal romantic beliefs.
Hefner found that participants who watched a lot of reality wedding TV did hold more romantic ideals, specifically in one category: love conquers all.
"This could be because television highlights the conflict and obstacles to make the stories more entertaining, and when the couple overcomes those hurdles and marries anyway it's an indication that their love can conquer all," Hefner told Fusion.
"So it makes sense that this ideal would be the belief most strongly endorsed by heavy viewers, and explains why other beliefs were not similarly impacted."
Hefner also learned that people who watch a lot of reality wedding TV do so with an intention to learn about love and relationships, especially those with strong romantic beliefs.
Why does any of this matter?
Studies have shown that the entertainment we consume can influence how we behave in our lives. And in this particular study, according to Hefner, people who watch reality wedding TV with intention—in other words, those who watch for more than entertainment value or to pass the time—see their romantic beliefs about love reinforced.
"These types of programs provide a way for viewers to believe that 'reality' can be translated into the ideal," said Hefner. For example, if a viewer sees themselves in the narrative, watches key players overcome relatable relationship obstacles, and ultimately sees them arrive at a happy ending, they might believe their own love story will have a happy ending as well.
"This provides hope for the viewer," she says, "which could be a very good thing."
Not only that, as Hefner points out in her paper, previous studies have shown that an endorsement of romantic beliefs can be key to forming and maintaining long-term relationships. Ergo, watching wedding TV may actually be correlated with a happier love life. Binge watch away.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.