When we’re emotionally invested in a show, we’re less lonely
Grab the tissues and remote because your favorite tear-jerker is actually good for you. It turns out that watching deeply emotional television shows and having similar reactions to them makes us healthier humans. So don’t worry about being wrecked after every episode of This Is Us.
If you’re thinking, “wait, what? But these people and situations aren’t real?” Let us explain: Our brains don’t know if our relationships are real or not. So the relationships we form with our favorite people on screen, which are parasocial or one-directional, are still technically relationships with perks. “So these friendships can convey a lot of real-world benefits,” Jennifer Barnes, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oklahoma, told Time. The positive effects include boosts to self-esteem, a decrease in feelings of loneliness, and an increase in the sense of belonging, she said.
Through her research, Barnes also found that watching TV dramas improves people’s ability to correctly identify thoughts and feeling other people are experiencing – aka emotional intelligence. In 2015, Barnes studied folks who had watched an episode of The Good Wife and those who viewed a documentary or nothing at all. The people who watched the popular drama from ABC were better at accurately describing emotions conveyed in pictures of faces.
Researchers from Penn State found that people who watch meaningful entertainment are more likely to help folks that are a different age and race than them. “Previous research has shown that people tend to be more altruistic after they watch a movie or television program that they consider more meaningful,” explained Erica Bailey, doctoral student in mass communication at Penn State.”But this study suggests that not only are they more altruistic, but they are more willing to offer help to people from different groups outside of their own.”
There is less research on what happens when a one-sided relationship is injured or ends – like when your favorite character dies – but Barnes said our emotional reactions to them are typical. “If a writer of a show decides to do something bad to that character, or heaven forbid kill that character off, you’re left with a very real emotional response,” she shared. “When you spend an hour every week with a person for an entire television season, they really do become a sort of friend—so it’s totally normal to feel upset over them.”
That sadness you feel from your favorite emotional roller coaster of a show shouldn’t last too long, though. “If you’re feeling sad about it several days or weeks afterward and it’s causing real-world distress, that might be a sign that you’re perhaps too invested in what’s going on,” Barnes said. I’ve avoided NBC’s This Is Us like the plague because every person I know posts on Facebook about their weekly cry session.
But perhaps I should DVR it and get a good wallow in.