PhotoCould watching the rerun of a show about nothing motivate you to do something?

Yes, it sounds crazy but a University of Buffalo researcher says watching Seinfeld or any other favorite show you've seen before may help restore the drive to get things done in people who have used up their reserves of willpower or self-control.

“People have a limited pool of these valuable mental resources,” said Jaye Derrick, research scientist at the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions. “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.”

Over time, these mental resources return. But Derrick believes there may be ways to speed that process.

Believe it or not, one of these ways is to re-watch your favorite TV show, Derrick’s research found. Doing so, she says, taps into the surrogate relationship people form with the characters in their favorite shows.

Comfort on the screen

Why a rerun – why not a game show or baseball game? Because, Derrick says, we find it comforting to watch a re-run. We already know what the characters are going to say and do. All we have to do is sit back and enjoy it.

“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.”

To prove her theory Derrick had groups of volunteers participate in experiments, which included writing about their favorite TV shows and engage in mental activities that required a lot of effort. She found that if subjects had to perform an effortful task they were more likely to seek out a re-run 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.

She also said writing about their favorite television show restored their energy levels and allowed them to perform better on a difficult puzzle.

In that experiment, half the group wrote about their favorite show while the other half wrote about objects found in their bedroom. Those who wrote about their favorite television show wrote for a longer period.

Indiscriminate viewing doesn't work

But this is not an excuse to become a couch potato, Derrick says. And channel surfing, or watching whatever happens to be on, doesn't have the same effect.

“The restorative effect I found is specific to re-watching favorite television shows or re-watching favorite movies or re-reading favorite books,” Derrick said. “Just watching whatever is on television does not provide the same benefit. And perhaps surprisingly, watching a new episode of a favorite television show for the first time does not provide the same benefit.”

The difference she says is the relationship that exists between the viewer and the TV show. In fact, she says this fictional “social surrogacy” may work better than actual social interaction with real people under some circumstances.

Derrick’s findings may dispel some notions that watching TV is bad for us. And indeed she argues that watching television is not all bad.

“While there is a great deal of research demonstrating that violent television can increase aggression, and watching television may be contributing to the growing obesity epidemic, watching a favorite television show can provide a variety of benefits, which may enhance overall wellbeing,” she said.

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