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Science Saturday, August 18th 2012 at 2:00 pm

Watching Television Can be Good for You, Says Science

Interesting research out of the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions suggests that regularly watching a TV show can help maintain our ability to fight temptation. The study, published by research psychologist Jaye Derrick, theorizes that exposure to a “familiar fictional world” helps keep people from giving in to every impulse.

The study builds on a previously published theory from research psychologists Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Voss, who believe that self-control is a finite resource. We can only tell ourselves no so many times per day. If you have to keep telling yourself not to check Facebook every ten minutes while you’re at work, you’re probably going to give in after a couple of hours. Luckily, it seems that watching Law and Order re-runs can help steel our resolve.

According to the study, maintaining self-control is all about staying positive; being in a good mood, spending time with friends, and having fun are all good for keeping your impulses in check. Familiar TV shows, with characters that you already know, can act like the digital equivalent of friends and family. Their presence is comforting, plus there’s no chance you’re going to accuse them of not taking out the trash. Derrick calls the phenomenon “social surrogacy.”

While Derrick states that TV really isn’t the best way to boost self-control, she also says the study importantly shows that even watching TV has value:

Media use can have unexpected psychological benefits[.] Television, movies and books can be more than leisure activities; in some cases, they fulfill needs, like restoring self-control, that people are reluctant or unable to fulfill through other means.

Think of it this way: When you get home, flop down on your couch, and turn on your TV, you don’t need to feel bad about how you’re not “being productive.” You need that extra episode Game of Thrones to keep yourself from yelling at people on the street, binge eating, and spending your entire paycheck on video games.

(Sage Journals via Pacific Standard)

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