Running low on willpower after a busy day? According to a new study, you can restore your drive to get things done in a very comfortable way: watch your favorite TV rerun.
“People have a limited pool of these valuable mental resources [willpower, self-control],” says Jaye Derrick, research scientist at the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions in a press release. “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.”
Positive social interaction, such as a dinner with friends, can be energizing, but hurtful or effortful social interaction may diminish willpower. Given this conflict, people may seek an alternative to social interaction to get energized again after a long day of study or work.
One of these ways is to re-watch a favorite TV show, Derrick says. Immersion in a familiar fictional world may serve as a social surrogacy. Therefore, it can restore self-control and willpower.
“When you watch a favorite rerun, you typically don’t have to use any effort to control what you are thinking, saying, or doing. You are not exerting the mental energy required for self-control or willpower,” Derrick explains. “At the same time, you are enjoying your ‘interaction,’ with the TV show’s characters, and this activity restores your energy.”
In the first of two studies, Derrick asked half of the participants to complete a task which required concentrated effort. The other half were asked to complete a similar but less effortful task. Half of the participants were then asked to write about their favorite television show while the other half completed a neutral listing task. Finally, participants completed a second effortful task measuring their remaining self-control.
The findings showed that the depleted participants wrote more (and thus thought longer) about their favorite television than non-depleted participants. In addition, the data demonstrated that their thinking about a favorite television program had restored their self-control and allowed them to perform better on the second effortful task.
In the second study, participants completed a daily survey for two weeks, which included items related to effortful self-control, media consumption and energy levels.
Derrick found that when participants had to do effortful tasks during the day, they were more likely to seek out a rerun of their favorite television show, to re-watch a favorite movie, or to re-read a favorite book. Doing so, then restored their energy levels. “In other words, there was a measurable restorative effect from a familiar fictional world,” Derrick says.
So watching TV clearly has it’s benefits. When tired and not in a social mood, recharge your battery with some Friends episodes.
PHOTOGRAPH © WARNER BROS./NEAL PETERS COLLECTION
Derrick, JL (2012). Energized by Television: Familiar Fictional Worlds Restore Self-Control. Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550612454889