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21 September 2012
Exercise is vital for your health and sending too much time lying around watching television is definitely not a good thing. Aside from the lack of activity, TV time threatens your psychology in a number of ways. For a start, it’s not possible to watch network promotions with “stars” posturing for the camera in what is apparently meant to be engaging humorous byplay without small parts of cerebral cortex dissolving. Then there is the shrinkage of the language centres of your brain that results from watching too many commercials. Having said all of that, it does appear that watching some repeats of your favourite shows can actually have some beneficial effects.
In a new study researchers had people perform a structured task that required concentrated effort. Another group completed a less structured task that required less effort. Then half of the subjects from each group were asked to write about their favourite TV show while the others listed the items in their room.
Those who wrote about their favourite television show wrote for longer if they had done the structured task (compared to the less structured task). So following a structured task thinking about your favourite television show seemed to be something that was pleasant. Additionally, those who had written about their favourite show subsequently did better on a difficult puzzle.
In a second study participants kept a diary of their daily fluctuations in media consumption, effortful tasks, and energy levels. They found that when people had to do something effortful they would be more likely to seek out a favourite TV show or a favourite book. This would restore their energy levels.
It all indicates that engaging with a favourite fictional world has a restorative mental effect.
The theory of it all is that people have a limited pool of mental resources. Engaging in a difficult task drains those resources and we need ways to renew them. When you watch a favourite episode of a favourite show, or favourite movie, or read a favourite book you get a double benefit. On the one hand you are not exerting self-control or willpower and at the same time you enjoy your interaction with the characters from your show or book in a safe environment. Importantly, watching new episodes of a favourite show does not confer these advantages presumably because the safe predictability of what is going to happen has been removed.
You don’t want to become a television junkie when there is a wonderful world out there to explore, but when you are frazzled a familiar favourite show can be a restorative tonic.
No wonder DVD sales of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The West Wing, and Gilligan’s Island are through the roof.