Watching a favorite rerun of a TV show is like slipping on a pair of sweatpants for the mind. And new research shows it could prime a person to tackle a difficult task by helping to restore self-control and willpower.
"People have a limited pool of these valuable mental resources," Jaye Derrick, a scientist at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions, said in a statement. "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."
Derrick explained that these mental resources do return over time, but some activities — like watching a rerun — can speed up their restoration.
"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," Derrick said. "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."
In one of the studies Derrick conducted, she had a group of participants keep a daily diary about their effortful tasks, media consumption and energy levels. These logs revealed that the participants were more likely to seek out a rerun of their favorite television show, or to revisit a favorite movie or book, if they had to do effortful tasks during the day. [5 Wacky Things That Are Good For You]
In another part of the research, participants had to either complete a task that required concentration or a similar less-structured task that didn't require so much effort. Then, half of the participants wrote about their favorite TV show while the others listed items in their room, considered a "neutral" task. To see if either task renewed or reduced their willpower and energy, the researchers had participants complete a writing task.
Those who had written about their fave television show wrote for longer if they had completed a structured task than if they had done the less-structured, less effortful task.
"In other words, there was a measurable restorative effect from a familiar fictional world," Derrick said in a statement.
But vegging out indiscriminately in front of any TV show didn't have the same effect, the researcher found.
"Just watching whatever is on television does not provide the same benefit," Derrick said. "And perhaps surprisingly, watching a new episode of a favorite television show for the first time does not provide the same benefit."
Her research was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.