Why watching reruns of your favourite TV shows can give you a mental boost

  • Researchers found will power and self control boosted
  • People were even able to perform better on puzzles after an episode

If you've ever settled down with a box set of your favourite TV show, then good news - scientists say it may have given you a mental boost.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo found people had boosted will power and self control after watching a favourite show.

They say people even performed better on puzzles after settling down in front of an episode they had seen several times before.

Researches found that watching old TV show repeats such as Sex and the City can actual give you a mental boost and increase willpower.

'When you watch a favorite re-run, you typically don't have to use any effort to control what you are thinking, saying or doing,' said Jaye Derrick at the University at Buffalo, who led the research.

'You are not exerting the mental energy required for self-control or willpower,'

'At the same time, you are enjoying your 'interaction,' with the TV show's characters, and this activity restores your energy.'

She believes that watching a rerun of a favorite TV show may help restore the drive to get things done in people who have used up their reserves of willpower or self-control.

'People have a limited pool of these valuable mental resources,' she said.

'When they use them on a task, they use up some of this limited resource.

'Therefore, they have less willpower and self-control for the next task.

'With enough time, these mental resources will return.

'However, there may be ways to more quickly restore them.'

However, the team found the key was a rerun - new shows simply had no effect.

Hit shows from the past such as Knight Rider can give people a boost and even improve their ability to complete puzzles.

'The restorative effect I found is specific to re-watching favorite television shows." Derrick says.

'Just watching whatever is on television does not provide the same benefit.

And perhaps surprisingly, watching a new episode of a favorite television show for the first time does not provide the same benefit.

'Based on my research, I would argue that watching television is not all bad.

'While there is a great deal of research demonstrating that violent television can increase aggression, and watching television may be contributing to the growing obesity epidemic, watching a favorite television show can provide a variety of benefits, which may enhance overall wellbeing,' she said.

In the first of her two studies published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, Derrick asked half of the participants to complete a structured task which required concentrated effort.

The other half were asked to complete a similar but less structured task that allowed them more freedom and required much less effort.

Then half of the participants were asked to write about their favorite television show while the other half listed items in their room (a "neutral" task).

Following this, the participants were tested to measure any reduction or renewal of willpower.

Those who wrote about their favorite television show (rather than listing items in their room) wrote for longer if they had done the structured task than if they had done the less-structured task.

This, Derrick says, indicates these participants were seeking out their favorite TV shows and they wanted to spend more time thinking about them.

Classic shows such as Columbo were key to the boost, watching modern shows was found to have no effect.

And writing about their favorite television show restored their energy levels and allowed them to perform better on a difficult puzzle.

In the second study, participants did a daily diary study.

They reported on their effortful tasks, media consumption and energy levels each day.

If they had to do difficult tasks, they were more likely to seek out a re-run of their favorite television show, to re-watch a favorite movie or to re-read a favorite book.

Doing so restored their energy levels.

The team found the key was to watch an episode where the viewer identified with the characters, and relaxed completely as they watched

'In other words, there was a measurable restorative effect from a familiar fictional world,' Derrick finds.

Derrick's new research will expand on these findings and examine other social consequences of television.

'I have found, for example, that favorite television shows can actually increase people's pro-social behavior.

'Specifically, after thinking about a favorite television show, people are more willing to forgive others, are more willing to help a stranger and are more willing to sacrifice for their romantic partner,' she says.

Shows such as Dawson's Creek can actually help people feel more forgiving as they empathise with characters and plots.

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