It’s a familiar feeling.

When you gawked and guffawed at Christine Quinn crashing Mary Fitzgerald and Jason Oppenheim’s dog birthday party on Netflix’s “Selling Sunset.” When you gasped and clutched your metaphorical pearls as authorities looked for Jen Shah on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” (and later arrested her). When you screamed after realizing who exactly screwed over Shiv, Roman and Kendall Roy’s chances at leading Waystar Royco on the Season 3 finale of HBO’s “Succession.”

Many enjoy watching famous and wealthy people fall on television, whether they are real or imagined.

“I like watching rich people and their problems because it’s escapism with stakes,” says reality TV fan Ana Vineuza.

Experts and fans say we can’t look away because of schadenfreude – finding joy in others’ hardships – and the ever-tantalizing appeal of a good story.

Elizabeth Cohen is an assistant professor at West Virginia University and a researcher in psychology and pop culture. They might not even deserve all of it.

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Cohen asserts that this is a psychological theory known as “social comparison”, which is why we love these shows. It posits that humans will always try and compare themselves to other people to figure out where they fit in the world. If you perceive someone is “better” than you, you fall into upward social comparison.

“The problem with upward social comparison is that it can be positive, but it makes you feel like you’re not where you need to be,” Cohen says. While it may be motivating, it could also lead to self-doubt.

There is also the flip side to downward social comparison. This means that you only consume media in order to judge others. TV clues us in that even the rich and famous aren’t so perfect – and audiences evidently revel in that.

Erica Chito—Childs is a sociology instructor at Hunter College and The Graduate Center.

Although reality TV and fiction might evoke a similar response of “I’m glad it’s not you”, knowing that the content is actual might increase that feeling. This is why some people find reality TV so frustrating.

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Cohen says reality shows are more cringey. It feels more real when it is true and people are embarrassed, than when it can be dismissed as fiction.

Although it may seem like reality TV is the hottest thing, reality television shows such as “Survivor” (or “Jersey Shore”) have had great success.

Where were you when you watched authorities look for Jen Shah (pictured) on Bravo's "The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City?"

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“We like watching other people behave in strange and bad ways,” says Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at the Newhouse School of Public Communications Syracuse University. No matter what their income, we enjoy seeing other people melt down.

All of it is part and parcel of a great story. “There seems to be a narrative thread that we like watching people make this climb to wealth and status,” Thompson says. But once they get there, the only thing left to tell is their fall. We get lots of schadenfreude enjoyment from that, if we look at many of the stories that we tell.

Mocking them is easier when they are actual people. Thompson states, “Reality TV depends on mockery.”

But a lot of people watching shows that present the rich as ridiculous still want to emulate them, or at least find them enjoyable and not necessarily mockable.

Bijal, who describes herself as a “Housewives” fan, says: “My core group has moved to different parts and I miss those complicated friendships.” “It scratches an itch. And also my friends and I watch the shows together and it’s a lot of fun to unpack the relationships and drama together.”

You know you screamed after realizing who exactly screwed over Shiv (Sarah Snook, center), Roman (Kieran Culkin, left) and Kendall Roy's chances at leading Waystar Royco on the Season 3 finale of HBO's "Succession." Matthew Macfadyen (right) also stars as Tom Wambsgans.

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The same can be said for a show like “Succession” – a drama about the family behind a media empire and the quest to control it – which dominates conversations on Twitter even days after an episode airs. It follows the legacy of water cooler shows like “Dallas” and “Dynasty,” all about rich people behaving badly.

Whether someone loves or hates (or loves to hate) this type of TV is a personal choice – not something ingrained in your brain.

“Why do some people hate this and why do some people like it? Thompson confirms that it’s not an inquiry for science. That’s the question of showbusiness.

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Source: USAToday.com

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