Clearly, no one has more time on their hands than scientists, who may have reached a new low in frivolous studies. It’s not that the conclusion to the study — that watching television reruns can help you maintain self control — isn’t interesting, it’s that WHO THE HELL THINKS UP THIS HYPOTHESIS?
Here’s the abstract to the University of Buffalo study Energized by Television: Familiar Fictional Worlds Restore Self-Control (via The Guardian):
Enacting effortful self-control depletes a finite resource, leaving less self-control available for subsequent effortful tasks. Positive social interaction can restore self-control, but hurtful or effortful social interaction depletes self-control. Given this conflict, people might seek an alternative to social interaction to restore self-control. The current research examines social surrogate restoration—the possibility that people seek a social surrogate when depleted, and that seeking social surrogacy restores self-control. One experiment and one daily diary demonstrate that people seek familiar fictional worlds (e.g., a favorite television program) after exerting effortful self-control. Moreover, immersion in this familiar fictional world restores self-control. Supplementary analyses suggest that it is the social nature of this familiar fictional world that contributes to restoration.
Now, here’s what that means in terms your average couch potato can more readily understand: If you’re trying to do something that requires a lot of self control (i.e., a diet), a positive, stimulating conversation with a friend or family member can help you maintain that self control. However, because positive conversations with friends and family members are unpredictable (because friends and family members are prone to assholery), you can substitute that positive social interaction with a Friends rerun.
In other words, if you eat a salad for lunch and you’re starving at dinner, watching a show you’ve already seen will help give you that self control you need to avoid eating six Beef Chalupas from Taco Bell. Why? Because we substitute characters from our favorite shows for actual friends, and when we already know the outcome to those social interactions, psychologically that will replenish our ability to maintain the self control we need to keep ourselves from sticking things in our pie hole.