We've all had days when all we wanted to do was slam the door on the real world and zone out to one of our favorite TV shows. Chances are you feel a bit guilty about indulging your urge to suckle at the boob tube, even if you consider it a public service to take your cranky self out of social circulation so that nobody gets hurt. Well feel guilty no more my moody friend because new social science research shows that watching reruns can renew will power and improve mood.
How does it work? Spending time with people we like makes us feel better, whether they are real or not. Turns out that your brain doesn't make a huge distinction between hanging out with real friends or your TV-based buddies. Plus TV friends offer the added benefits of never being flakey, never being needy and usually being pretty darn good looking. This “social surrogacy” as the social scientists call it offers many of the benefits of social interaction without the stress of dealing with real people. With the advent of streaming services you can score chicks with Barney, slay vampires with Buffy or sip coffee with Loralie and Rori anytime you like. As the Golden Girls would say, it's good to know you've got a friend.
Psychologist Jaye Derrick's research also shows that immersion in a “familiar fictional world” can replenish your will power and increase your self control. Her study showed that participants who wrote about a favorite show did better in subsequent tests of will power and concentration and reported more positive moods. People who wrote about a recent trip did not experience these benefits (probably because they recalled getting lost, sunburned and in a big fight with their traveling companion). Lets face it sometimes real life scrips leave a lot to be desired.
As always there can be too much of any good thing and it's not recommended that you replace all of your friends with the lower maintenance electronic variety. People who watch more than 2 hours of TV each day score lower in most measures of mental health and have increased risks of being over-weight, so indulge selectively and don't binge watch too often.
Who are your favorite television friends?
The Therapeutic Value of Watching Reruns, Tom Jacobs, Aug 13, 2012.
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Lucas, M., et all. Relation Between Clinical Depression Risk and Physical Activity and Time Spent Watching Television in Older Women: A 10-Year Prospective Follow-up Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 174, 9, 1017 – 1027.