Why do I watch the same TV shows again? A psychologist explains

WRiter and editor Jill Duffy first started watching TV shows again after she moved from the US to India with her partner in 2015. She is struggling to adjust to life. in a new country, and Seinfeld and Modern family reminded her of life in San Francisco and New York, where life was more familiar. She appreciates how the characters”[felt] as friends at a time when we are different from our friends,” she said. Revisit your favorite episodes of British comedy shows like IT crowd and Peep Show gave her a good laugh before going to bed.

Half a decade later, facing similar feelings of alienation and loneliness during the pandemic, she returned to the ritual of watching TV shows at the end of the day. She has expanded her library (Schitt’s Creek became a new favorite) but the reasons she searches for these shows mostly remain the same: she loves knowing she can watch a show that will comfort her when the outside world feels scary and unpredictable.

When you consider the course of human history — or even television history — re-watching on-demand TV shows is a relatively new phenomenon. Shira Gabriel, a psychology professor at the University of Buffalo who studies how watching TV shows can enhance feelings of belonging, says our instinct to repeat the same stories over and over is a part of the human experience. Humans have an innate need to belong to larger groups to survive, and we’re biologically programmed to find solace in stories, she says. This is a primordial dynamic that occurs outside of our conscious awareness. “There is this very old, powerful evolutionary system that drives us to want comforting stories like these,” she said.

Our ancestors did not have sharp claws or ferocious teeth to ward off potential threats; They need to rely on each other to survive. “Throughout human history and all known places in the world, people have lived in groups,” says Gabriel. “We believe that humans have evolved to have a mechanism that attracts them to other people.” This impulse makes humans social creatures and makes them feel rewarded and happy when it comes to social interactions, she says.

At a time when this instinct was developing in people, television, books and magazines did not exist. Gabriel theorizes that’s why fictional characters can feel so much like real friends. “There’s really no reason for humans to develop a mechanism to distinguish between real people in our lives and real people in our minds.” Therefore, says Gabriel, people don’t really distinguish between the two – which means we can fulfill our need to belong by feeling connected to others through our this story.

Watching TV shows for relaxation can also be comforting, says Gabriel. Search by Gabriel and others have found that when people re-watch their favorite TV shows, they report feeling transported to another world. This can help them feel less lonely when watching these shows, says Gabriel. She says revisiting shows is a very healthy part of maintaining a strong sense of self and a sense of connection in the modern world.

Here are some benefits you can reap from watching a favorite TV show over and over again.

You will feel more recovered

Watching new TV shows requires you to pay close attention. There are new characters to get to know you, new fictional universes to boot. It can be a lot of processing when you’re exhausted.

Jaye Derrick, a professor of psychology at the University of Houston, says that when people feel exhausted, watching TV shows can re-energize them and restore a sense of self-control. In a small learnDerrick found that after college students did a grueling writing assignment or used a lot of self-control over the course of the day, they were more likely to seek out familiar fictional worlds — as opposed to new worlds – and feel better after doing so.

In a given day, we only have a certain amount of willpower, Derrick said. Pay attention to boring tasks at work, moderate what you say to colleagues, do errands; all of which uses up this limited autonomy. “And then when you get home, your partner asks, ‘What do you want for dinner?’ You’re like, ‘I don’t care. Let’s eat. ‘ It’s an example of you not wanting to make a decision anymore, because you no longer have the resources to engage in the decision making effort at the time,” she said.

Rewatching TV shows can restore some of that energy, says Derrick, because it’s a form of decision-making pause and can therefore replenish your self-control. Maybe you like the characters or you like the emotional experience you had when you first saw the show. By watching the show again, “you can just sit back and enjoy the ride,” she says.

You will not be dissapointed

Studies have found that when people are faced with the choice to try something new or continue a habit they have, they tend to choose to stay the same. This is called status quo bias and we do it because perpetuating the habits we already have to reduce the risk of suffering or disappointment.

In one year 1988 learn Demonstrating the status quo bias for the first time, the researchers found that this preference for the familiar is the reason why people tend to shop at the same grocery store and order the same items. identical dishes from a menu; Chances are, these will meet our expectations. Trying a new store or ordering a new item increases the likelihood of dissatisfaction.

When you’re under stress or in need of relief, you may not have enough in your mind to make a decision as to whether a new show is worth watching. The humor may not connect, the characters may be unappealing, or the plot may be dull. Seeing something you already know you’ll love protects you from regrets. You know whether a TV show you’ve seen before will be thrilling, scary, or silly — and so you can prepare to have a specific emotional experience watching it.

“Reviewing the shows you’ve watched gives you the ability to predict and control your environment,” says Derrick. “You can choose something to tailor your feelings to you and you don’t have to pay the same careful attention as when you absolutely must for a new show.”

You will enjoy the feeling of community

Our social lives are not limited to our personal relationships with friends and family. Narrative and social relationships—Those are one-way attachments to people you don’t know, like celebrities, or people that may not even exist, like fictional characters — that can also serve a social purpose . “Through the TV shows we watch or the movies or books we read, even the famous people we read online, they can give us a feeling of being,” says Gabriel. connect.

The magic of watching TV shows is that they can give you that warm feeling of being in someone else’s company without the threat of rejection or the hassle of scheduling interactions in your life. real, 2021 research paper concluded. “When it comes to fictional characters, they’re in our bidding,” said Raymond A. Mar, professor of psychology at York University and co-author of the study. “They’re there whenever we need them, whenever we ask them to.”

The ability to rely on fictional stories for comfort and community is what psychologists call social snacks: fast, positive, daily interactions that bring a sense of belonging and connection. “The idea is that we can use other forms of engagement to meet our social needs,” says Mar. “When we participate in stories, we often imagine the social world of the characters in the story.”

Of course, Jerry, Kramer, George, and Elaine are no substitute for real-life friends. But it’s not just you: revisiting their adventures can actually make you feel better. “If you feel a little lonely or lack some of these feelings of belonging,” he says, “interactions like watching a TV show with a character can help us feel more connected to those who are not. others.”

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