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Watching reruns? You're replenishing mental resources!

September 06, 2012|By Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times | For the Booster Shots Blog
  • Seeking out "familiar fictional worlds" in reruns of favorite television shows such as "I Love Lucy" seems to yield mental benefits for the overworked mind, says a new study.
Seeking out "familiar fictional worlds" in reruns of favorite… (CBS File )

Is watching reruns a guilty pleasure? Well, cast aside your shame, lovers of old "Seinfeld" episodes, "I Love Lucy" addicts and closeted "Full House" fans: a new study finds you are not wasting your time; you're replenishing your spent powers of self-control so you can tackle challenges ahead.

Research published recently in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that far from zoning out in front of the tube, "people seek out familiar fictional worlds to become rejuvenated."

The study demonstrates this by showing in several experiments that subjects who have engaged in arduous mental activity or had to maintain tight control over their emotions were far more likely in the following hours to seek out a rerun to watch, and overwhelmingly chose to watch a reliable favorite rather than to see a new show or movie or to zone out in front of whatever was on when they turned on the tube.

And for those that watched a beloved rerun, mood and mental focus -- as demonstrated by subjects' willingness to respond to a prompt with a longer essay -- came back more quickly.

"Media use can have unexpected psychological benefits," writes the author, an addiction researcher at the University of Buffalo, N.Y. "Television, movies and books can be more than leisure activities; in some cases, they fulfill needs, like restoring self-control."

The author, Jaye L. Derrick, suggests that returning to "fictional worlds" that are familiar to us is akin to another strategy -- socializing -- that we humans also use to recharge our batteries after mental or emotional exertion. But while seeking out the comfort and company of others can often yield unpredictable results, we know that a half hour with Lucy and Ethel (or with Jerry and the gang) will deliver a reliable dose of decompression and good feeling.

In that sense, says Derrick, we use reruns as a sort of rejuvenating "social surrogate."

Many studies have touted the value of exercise in improving focus and restoring energy after mental exertion. But sometimes, watching a rerun just hits the spot more than taking a run.

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