“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got…”
-Theme from Cheers
The Problem: It’s true, getting along in the world–daily interactions with others, doing business, even getting to work on time–it all takes a fair amount of self-control and willpower. But willpower takes energy; and human energy oftentimes runs on empty. While energy can be renewed by something as simple as a pleasant chat with a friend, if your self-control is already ebbing, you could still “lose it” by accident. Far less obvious is the danger of running your energy even lower… Get depleted too low too often and serious psychological and health problems may be the result.
The Study: A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Scienceby Jaye L. Derrick, PhD, research scientist at the Research Institute on Addictions at the University at Buffalo, University of New York, looked into the effects of watching TV reruns and found some surprising results. In one test, researchers gave the subjects word puzzles designed to deplete self-control and–literally–test their patience. Then over the following two weeks, subjects tracked recovery activities after high-stress situations whenever willpower became depleted.The Result: In the word problem test, the stressed-out subjects scored higher on recalling a familiar, favorite, and fictional TV show or book, than they did when trying to write about items found in their bedroom or home. In the two week experiment, subjects who watched or read familiar, favorite, and fictional TV reruns or novels, respectively, reported feeling better faster and more motivated to return to life refreshed than participants who just watched or read indiscriminately, or who did nothing.
The Tip: Psychologists call the effect “social surrogacy”–interaction that replaces connecting with another person–and it may be as refreshing to your energy as real human interaction, without the danger of further energy depletion. Far from vindication for couch potatoes, the study does not suggest this as a permanent substitute for friendships, activities, or exercise. But it’s nice to know there’s some benefit to those reruns and dog-eared paperbacks!