Why does rewatching your all-time favorite TV show bring you joy? Here is what psychology has to say!
Is there a TV show you enjoy so much you have seen all seasons from start to finish several times? And if there is, have you ever wondered what makes you come back to this series?
While in quarantine, many of us have rediscovered shows that speak to us on an emotional level or make us forget about the chaos around us for a while. But even before that, we have binged-watched the same series over and over again with the same level of enthusiasm, if not even more.
But why do we prefer to rewatch a show we have seen a gazillion times rather than explore something new? According to Jennifer V. Fayard, Ph.D., it may have a lot to do with our craving for familiarity.
The Associate Professor of Psychology at Ouachita Baptist University notes:
“The pandemic brought anxiety and uncertainty, and in such times, we crave ease of processing, a sense of control, and the warmth of familiarity.”
What is Cognitive load, and how does it affect our TV show preferences?
As the expert observes, cognitive load refers to the amount of stress put on our working memory. It piles up as we constantly absorb new information while desperately trying to keep up. And for millions of us, the pandemic was a period of exploring unfamiliarities and dealing with the massive stress that inevitably comes along.
When subjected to a heavy cognitive load, turning to shows we are familiar with is much more likely than starting new ones we know almost nothing about. In times of mental exhaustion, we seek ease, which we usually find in the things we already love and feel comfortable around. That’s because these things don’t force us to grasp new knowledge. In Fayard’s words, they don’t “pile anything else onto our mental plates.”
On the other hand, watching a brand new series requires active thinking. There are new characters you have to get to know, new stories you need to follow through, new plot twists that catch you off-guard. You need to be alert all the time so you don’t miss something important.
But when you’re watching a show you have already seen quite a few times, and you know every single line of every single episode, you can simply relax and enjoy it without being pressured to process new information. In a way, by binging on your favorite series, you are giving your overworked brain a mental rest.
Can watching TV shows be therapeutic?
According to a study conducted by Jaye L. Derrick, fictional worlds are capable of restoring self-control. The research suggests that watching familiar TV shows helps you recharge after a period of exertion. This could be an explanation of why we tend to turn to the series we love when we feel empty or anxious. The sense of comfort they bring us serves as an emotional reward.
New experiences may be thrilling, but they can also be extremely stressful. In the meantime, things we have already experienced at least several times can prove to be stress-relieving. This could be because of the mere exposure effect, which means the more times we have been exposed to something, the more we tend to like it.
Interacting with something you are already familiar with increases your perceptual fluency – the ease with which we can process information. And, usually, the easier it is to process something, the more likely it is for it to bring us positive emotions.
In other words, when you know exactly what happens in the show you’re binging, your brain doesn’t have to bother figuring out what’s going on(and this makes you happy).
What show do you go to whenever you need a mental rest? How does it make you feel? Let us know in the comment section!