Watching reruns of the popular comedy show, Seinfeld may not seem like the sort of thing that researchers should be spending their days on, but its actually raw data for an experiment conducted by scientist Jaye Derrick. She’s with the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions.
She’s found that watching TV reruns boosts will power and self-control. Both are limited resources that – these days – are tested more and more by multitasking and busy schedules. Derrick says we naturally re-charge our batteries by spending time with friends, partners or family. But those real life relationships don’t always do the trick. That’s where our, TV friends, if you will, come into play.
“We feel like we’re watching our friends. It’s this group of friends. Were sitting there hanging out with our friends. We know what’s going on in their lives. We know what Rachel is likely to do to Ross. We know all these things about the people in our favorite show. And when we watch it over and over again then we start to experience the feeling that we know them, that we’re interacting with them on a regular basis."
Our brains latch onto fake relationships
While re-runs of favorite TV shows, people make almost no effort to think or expend any energy. And that’s good for us, Derrick says. She found that people were able to tackle taxing activities with renewed energy and focus after watching reruns – and it doesn’t matter if its a comedy, drama or cartoon. Turns out, our brains really like latching onto fake relationships with celebrities, talk show hosts or TV characters.
“Even though they don’t interact back a lot of times, they still look at us. A lot of the time they’re talking and we know what’s going on. In a lot of ways, I don’t think our brains can differentiate between fake people and real people. In a lot of ways it feels real to us.”
But Derrick found the positive effect only comes from re-runs – not new shows. And while she touts her discovery as a positive health effect from TV, Derrick warns this is not an excuse to become a couch potatoes.