September 7, 2012

Watching TV May Help Boost Brain Power

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A scientist says in a new paper that although it may seem like a lazy approach, watching TV might help boost your brain power.

Jaye Derrick, PhD, a research scientist at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions, found that watching a rerun of a favorite TV show might help restore the drive to get things done for people who need to gather up a little more will power.

"People have a limited pool of these valuable mental resources," Derrick said in a statement. "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."

He found that watching a rerun of a favorite show taps into the surrogate relationship people form with the characters in their favorite shows.

Watching the show helps comfort us because we already know what the characters are going to say and do, so it allows us to be able to sit back and just 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 said in the statement. "At the same time, you are enjoying your 'interaction' with the TV show's characters, and this activity restores your energy."

During the first of two studies published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, Derrick asked half of the participants to complete a structured task that allowed them more freedom and required less effort.

Half of the participants were asked to write about their favorite television show while the other half listed items in their room. The participants were tested to measure any reduction or renewal of willpower.

Those who wrote about their favorite show wrote for longer if they had done the structured task than if they had done the less-structured task.

Derrick said this indicates these participants were seeking out their favorite TV shows and they wanted to spend more time thinking about them.

He found that writing about their favorite television show restored their energy levels and allowed them to perform better on a difficult puzzle.

During the second study, participants did a daily diary study where they reported on their tasks that required effort, media consumption, and energy levels each day.

If the participants had to do tasks that required significant effort, 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.

"In other words, there was a measurable restorative effect from a familiar fictional world," Derrick said in the statement.

He said that the findings don't give you a reason to go ahead and just succumb to the ways of being a couch potato.

"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 in the statement. "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."