An interesting article was published last month (Derrick, 2012), which is making quite a big buzz on the internet. The findings of the research assert that when self-control or willpower is depleted and one is mentally exhausted, watching TV helps to quickly fill up the reserves and get effortful tasks done. Watching favorite shows apparently also makes people become more forgiving, helpful towards strangers and they are also more willing to sacrifice for their partners. In simple terms the article declares that TV is good for us. Before every one will get the incentive to plunge into an indiscriminating vegetative state in front of the TV, there are more details involved than that.

This only applies to watching favorite reruns and not everything that’s on TV. Reruns of favorite shows are familiar and comforting to us. Watching our favorite characters feels like we are socializing with people with whom we have a comfortable relationship. Unlike in human contact, which can deplete resources even more, the possibility of negative interaction (e.g. rejection, criticism, irritation, isolation, arguments etc.) is impossible. We know for sure that it will be pleasurable, give us a good feeling and reduce our stress. In addition, because we already know the plot there is not a lot of effort, energy and cognitive activity going on, which means that we just sit back and enjoy it without, for example, analyzing what the character will do next. As a result mental energy is slowly being restored.  The researcher asserts that watching our favorite shows increases our energy and resolve, relives stress, improves mood and our favorite TV characters function as surrogate friends who support us and make us become better human beings.

To balance this idyllic and attractive image of TV watching, the reader should also be reminded that there is a vast research that proves that TV watching can also makes us more aggressive, obese, physically inactive, unhealthy and insecure about ourselves and our bodies. TV affects our society as it promotes more social stereotyping, increases violence, crime and undermines many values and norms (Sparks et al., 2002). According to Frey, Benesch and Stutzer (2007) heavy TV watchers also report less life satisfaction. While watching TV may be pleasurable afterwards the viewers worry more about their financial situations, wealth becomes very important, they feel less trusting and safe and they become more socially isolated and less involved in activities. As consequence, excessive TV watcher report overall dissatisfaction with their lives. These results stay strong regardless of the respondents’ personality characteristics.

Adolescents are also vulnerable to negative consequences of TV watching. Besides potentially becoming more aggressive and violent, adolescents also tend to consume more alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. Eating disorders and related issues may also develop in teens due to TV watching. The bombardment of sexual messages and contents increase sexual activity, promiscuity and the willingness of teens to engage in various sexual acts (Escobar-Chaves et al., 2005). Adolescents’ attitudes towards sex become more permissive and sexual encounters seem to have lost their meaning and value.

Watching TV is a leisure and enjoyable activity and everyone does it.  TV is a source of entertainment, information and even education.  It is one of our many strategies to relieve tension, stress, comfort ourselves and even elevate our mood and cheer ourselves up.  It is a way of taking a break from responsibilities and a stressful day and just passively recharging the energy. Watching TV enables us to take a short time-out to calm down and restore emotional balance before actively solving problems or carry out other tasks. Temporary escapism that enables to decompress and improve the mood is fine, however, excessive reliance on this type of strategy quickly can turn into severe avoidance and that has long term serious psychological and health consequences.  In short, TV watching has many benefits and many drawbacks. Just as in any good thing that is not really good for you, if excessively and inappropriately consumed, one should use some good old fashioned common sense and moderation to attain the maximum benefits at the minimum costs.

Derrick, J.L. (2012). Energized by Television: Familiar Fictional Worlds Restore Self-Control. Social Psychological and Personality Science, August 8, 2012,1-9.

Escobar-Chaves, L., Tortolero, S. R., Markham, C.M. , Low, B.J.,  Eitel, P.,& Thickstun, P. (2005). Impact of the Media on Adolescent Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors. Pediatrics, 116, 1, 303 -326.

Frey, B.S., Benesch, C.,&  Stutzer, A. (2007). Does watching TV make us happy?Journal of Economic Psychology, 28, 283–313.

Sparks, Glenn G. and Cheri W. Sparks (2002). Effects of Media Violence. In: Jennings Bryant and Dolf Zillmann (eds.). Media Effects. Advances in Theory and Research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: 269-285.