We hear all the time that we need to get off the couch, stop watching TV and get moving.
But what if watching TV under specific conditions could actually provide the mental boost you need to tackle a difficult task?
A new paper that describes two studies by Jaye Derrick, PhD, research scientist at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions, found that watching a rerun of a favorite TV show 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," explains Derrick. "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."
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. We find it comforting, mainly because 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. 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 her two studies published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, Derrick asked half of the participants to complete a structured task which required concentrated effort. The other half were asked to complete a similar but less structured task that allowed them more freedom and required much less effort.
Then half of the participants were asked to write about their favorite television show while the other half listed items in their room (a "neutral" task).
Following this, the participants were tested to measure any reduction or renewal of willpower.