The early money in academic circles was on voyeurism. Watching strangers interact with one another on TV seemed to appeal to humanity's inner Peeping Tom. However, voyeurism implies that the people you're watching don't know they're being watched. Reality TV stars were only getting more self-aware, and the ratings were only growing.
Deciding it was time to go back to the drawing board, two idealistic Ohio State researchers decided to compare viewing behaviors and personality profiles using Aristotle's model of the human soul. It was at this point that they discovered, to their horror, that the voyeur theory wasn't too cynical. In fact, when it comes to why we watch reality TV, the theory equating a large swath of humanity with lonely men masturbating in trees wasn't cynical enough.
Way to make humanity look like complete assholes, SCIENCE.
The adult fans of reality TV whose personalities they mapped ended up having pretty much all the worst traits possible. Professor Reiss himself writes that "the people who watched reality television had above-average trait motivation to feel self-important and, to a lesser extent, vindicated, friendly [and] free of morality." If each personality profile was a different Christian Bale character, Patrick Bateman would be the model reality TV viewer.
Their theory was that reality TV was essentially the antidote to self-improvement: Instead of feeling better about yourself by achieving anything, you can just watch the worst possible humans fawn over Flava Flav for half an hour! It's like a Hot Pocket for your self-esteem -- quick, easy and overall bad for you.
In an objective, scientific sense, listening to this man talk erodes your soul.