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Imagine a cozy evening at home, wrapped in a blanket with a bowl of popcorn in hand. What is on the screen? Your all-time favorite TV show, the one you have watched a dozen times before? It might be the quirky gang from “Friends,” the mesmerizing escapades of “Harry Potter,” or the heartwarming tales of “The Office.”
There is something undeniably soothing about diving back into these familiar narratives. But have you ever wondered why watching familiar shows makes you feel better, less anxious, or even comforted? It is not just about nostalgia. Something psychological is at work, transforming these reruns into a comforting and therapeutic experience.
A psychological principle elucidates why familiar shows appear to work their magic. The phenomenon arises from a study demonstrating that repeated exposure to a stimulus amplifies the positive response to that stimulus, a phenomenon referred to as the mere exposure effect.
The study had two experiments, where people of different ages shared their thoughts about made-up words (Experiment 1) or unfamiliar faces (Experiment 2). Afterward, they took a surprise memory test. Some items were shown one after the other (close together) during the initial study, while others had a 6-item gap (spread out).
The researchers found that people preferred the spread-out items over the close-together ones. Interestingly, older adults did even better than younger adults at remembering the spread-out items they liked. The findings highlight how repetition influences memory.
Thus, the more exposure you get from a stimulus, the more positively you become inclined to it. It is not surprising that old shows like “The Office,” which originally aired in 2013, still garnered 87 billion minutes of viewership in 2020.
Familiarity brings comfort. You already know the narrative, the characters, and the ultimate outcome of your favorite show. That world, although make-believe, is free from uncertainty. Every trigger warning has a known resolution, keeping you at ease throughout the show. This predictability serves as a psychological anchor in your unpredictable life.
In a world rife with uncertainty, this predictability acts as a comforting constant. It offers you a sense of control, a feeling that you can anticipate what is coming next, even if it is just within the confines of a TV show. This perceived control and stability can significantly reduce anxiety levels. It is akin to finding a reassuring pattern amidst the chaos, providing a mental safe haven or temporary escape from stress and uncertainties.
Old shows act as a bridge to your past experiences. They evoke memories and emotions that made you love the show in the first place. When you first encountered that show everything was right with your world. During that time, life seemed simpler, and you felt more carefree, surrounded by a plethora of positive memories.
Nostalgia unlocks a treasure trove of emotions. It is not just a wistful longing for the past. It has the potential to boost your mood and provide profound comfort. Studies have consistently shown that experiencing nostalgia can lead to an uplifted spirit, enhancing your connection to your past self. The memories become a reassuring reminder of who you once were and the joys you experienced.
In essence, nostalgia evokes comforting emotions from our past into the present moment. It creates a sense of continuity and emotional stability that can be incredibly soothing and reassuring, especially in times of stress or anxiety.
Familiar shows momentarily detach you from the burdens of your present concerns and plunge into a realm that offers solace and delight, a concept known as escapism. The shows help you tune out the troubles and anxieties weighing you down. They are a portal into an alternate reality, one you find comforting and welcoming. In this parallel world, the familiar characters and settings act as anchors, offering stability and emotional refuge.
Escapism is a coping mechanism. It allows you to de-stress, unwind, and take a mental break from your challenges. The break can help you think, declutter, and reflect on your life, enabling you to navigate the complexities of reality with a renewed sense of resilience and calm.
Several key factors impact the restorative nature of the shows you love to watch.
● Reduce your cognitive load, the mental effort and capacity required for processing and managing information, by being an escape from everyday stressors.
● Help with emotional management. Since you already know the emotional arcs and outcomes of the shows, you can anticipate how you will feel while watching them.
● Trigger the release of feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin, associated with feelings of happiness and bonding.
● Give a sense of control, which empowers you to fight anxiety-induced helplessness.
● Eliminate decision fatigue, enabling you to watch something you already love and enjoy.
The connection you feel with your favorite characters transcends the boundaries of fiction. Over time, as you immerse yourself in their stories, they become like cherished companions. Their presence on screen evokes a unique sense of comfort and emotional resonance.
This connection develops from the human capacity for empathy and storytelling. You forge a genuine emotional bond as you invest in the characters, their struggles, and their triumphs. This bond is a source of solace and companionship, especially during moments of loneliness or distress.
Indulging in your favorite shows offers more than filling your leisure. It is beneficial for your mental health. The shows provide an opportunity to escape the demands of daily life and immerse yourself in narratives that captivate your imagination.
Whether it is the comforting familiarity of beloved characters or the thrill of a compelling plot, these indulgent moments provide much-needed respite. They lower stress levels, regulate emotions, and evoke nostalgia, all contributing to an enhanced mood. So, go ahead and indulge in your favorite shows. It is a form of self-care that rejuvenates the mind and renews the spirit, promoting mental and emotional balance in a hectic world.
If you are interested in beginning therapy, Tate Psychotherapy is here to help. We offer a broad
range of services, such as individual therapy for adults, children and adolescents, and family
We offer in-person and telehealth services, making therapy convenient, safe, and comfortable.
We accept in-person appointments in New York City locations as well as provide telehealth services to clients in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, Florida, and Texas. Get started today: https://tatepsychotherapy.clientsecure.me/request/clinician