'Friends' has been one of the most influential and entertaining sitcoms to have ever hit the TV screens, but researchers at Ryerson University have found that the show's slender and beautiful cast members, like Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox Arquette, make the viewers feel worse about their own appearances.
In the study, Dr. Stephen Want, an Assistant Professor in Ryerson's Department of Psychology, wanted to measure how television shows made university-aged women feel about their overall appearances.
"Our study showed two things. First, people have the tendency to make rapid comparisons of themselves to images on television programs even when they don't think they are being affected. Second, when we are reminded that 'real life' doesn't resemble what is seen on TV, and we can look at things with a critical eye, the comparisons become less relevant," said Want.
He said: "There's a lot of talk about the effect of media images on people's satisfaction with their appearance. But the term 'media images' is used as a catch-all phrase. Most research focuses on fashion magazines and television commercials; we wanted to see if other images on TV achieved the same result."
The researchers recruited 76 undergraduate women, and assigned them to one of four groups.
Each group viewed a 10-minute clip of Friends in which thin and physically attractive characters played a prominent role, but their physical appearance was not especially emphasized.
And, unlike some episodes - where Monica's adolescent weight problem is occasionally mentioned - this particular segment contained no appearance-related jokes or references.
The researchers wanted to gauge participants' satisfaction with their overall appearance after watching Friends.
However, before viewing the segment, two of the groups were asked to read intervention material on appearance and also on weight and shape.
Both sets of intervention materials were intended to convey the message that idealized images of women on TV are unrealistic and unattainable.
The researchers found that watching the segment had a significantly adverse effect on the participants' satisfaction with their own appearance.
However, reading the intervention material seemed to mitigate some of those feelings.
The study titled, 'The Influence of Television Programs on Appearance Satisfaction: Making and Mitigating Social Comparisons to Friends', has been published in the journal Sex Roles.