The Psychological Reason You Love Watching Those Catfights On ‘Married At First Sight’

MAFS-CATFIGHTS-(2)

Whether we like it or not, Married at First Sight is everywhere.

As we move into the heart of the season, you can’t step into an elevator or buy a coffee without overhearing chatter about commitment ceremonies, botched dates or a very unnatural set of fake eyelashes.

And while it’s an admissible guilty pleasure for some (a snackable centre point for weekday wine-and-cheese nights and WhatsApp groupchats), even those who don’t love the show and prefer to stalk Instagrams and read Daily Mail exposés on Chrome Incognito love the show.

If you fall into the latter category, we’re sure you’ll have already asked yourself this question: why am I so into it?

Sure, watching strangers matched up into not-so-holy matrimony like 17th-century arranged marriages is fun, and critiquing their questionable outfits is even more so, but truth be told, it’s the fights that get us.

You know: Cyrell getting physical with Martha-in-a-gold-face-mask. Tamara and Jessika’s tug-o-war over Dan. Cyrell getting into it with… well. Everyone.

It begs the question: why are we so drawn to watching these tense, often-times volatile and always uncomfortable fights? Thankfully, it doesn’t hint at a deeper psychological problem in our brains if you do get a kick out of it.

We quizzed Rachel Voysey, the principle psychologist at The Relationship Room, about the draw of watching women duke it out.

 

WHY WE LIKE WATCHING WOMEN FIGHT ON ‘MARRIED AT FIRST SIGHT’

Given how big Married at First Sight is and how complex the ‘social experiment’ sometimes gets, it’s no surprise that there are lots of different reasons why you might like watching two women go round for round.

The first reason? Because, as women, we can relate to why they’re fighting.

“When women are in conflict it is far less overt than when men traditionally do conflict. There is often a largely hidden aspect to the way women insult, gossip, socially manipulate and use strategic vulnerability to undercut and attempt to destroy their opponents,” says Voysey.

“This level of complexity makes it particularly fascinating for women to watch women fight as we can observe the often not-so-subtle way that we have been treated when in conflict with other women, but from a safe and observable distance.

“This distance often allows us to actually analyse and understand aspects of female conflict that, as women, we understand has happened to some degree to us or others we know in the past.”

And it’s true. Who hasn’t been caught off guard by a comment made by a friend? Or heard cheating rumours floating around? Or had to address some whispered gossip you’re sick of hearing?

Voysey notes that observing these fights from the distance of our television screens can serve a few functions for us.

“One, it gives us a kind of group therapy effect where we can understand past hurts and process past experiences by observing it in others,” Voysey tells ELLE, explaining that seeing these conflicts unfold can help us understand fights we’ve had in the past—and learn for future conflicts, as is her second point.

“Two, we feel we can learn things vicariously about conflict between women that may help us in the future to avoid or understand what happens when we are in conflict with other women.”

And the third reason draws on society’s “intrigue into public humiliation or punishing of people who have ‘done wrong’.”

“Three, there is an aspect of enjoyment in seeing the person we assess as the villain or wrong-doer be punished or lose the fight,” says Voysey. “Viewers enjoy the sense of public humiliation in the punishment when we watch the person we assess as ‘wrong’ lose the fight or suffer in the process.”

But there is an evolutionary aspect to this whole thing, too.

“Humans are naturally curious and learn through both experience and observation,” explains Voysey. “Because of this, watching others in conflict does have the effect of engaging our attention and this is very normal and hard wired into our brains, because learning about how to win or avoid conflict increases our chances of survival in an evolutionary sense in the primitive parts of our brain that still very much control us today.”

Need to excuse your MaFS habit to a non-believer? Just tell them you’re increasing your evolutionary survival skills.

 

MOST IMPORTANTLY… IS WATCHING IT BAD FOR US?

Sure, we all like to joke that it’s the flavour of TV that melts brain cells by the second, but could watching these constant blow-outs be having a negative effect on us?

The answer: not really… but maybe a little.

Voysey explains that the show does act to normalise “unhealthy conflict habits such as using criticism, aggression, bullying and violence, which are mal-adaptive ways to solve and repair relationships.”

She also notes that it’s “very unlikely you will learn any good habits or skills from these kinds of shows and, if anything, it reinforces unhealthy conflict behaviours.”

“The effect of normalising women treating other women badly is very unhealthy in creating a platform in which female bullying becomes something that viewers may see as normal or warranted.”

“Similarly, watching couples cheat, criticise, judge and manipulate each other does normalise unhealthy relationships without offering alternative healthy strategies,” she continues. “In fact there is never a good reason for anyone to treat someone else with aggression. There are much healthier ways to resolve conflict.”

The short of it? It won’t rot your brain to tune into your favourite guilty pleasure, just try not to take your relationship advice from it.