Why we’re TV addicts
Are you one of the millions of people who can’t stop watching top television shows like The Walking Dead, Scandal or Homeland? No need to worry, you are not alone. When it comes to today’s hit TV shows, it turns out there are a few good psychological reasons why we’re all so hooked. Recently Time Magazine published a story highlighting the “top five” behind why the world is literally addicted to good TV.
Number one: The Cliffhanger
Perhaps the most common strategy producers use to keep you wanting more. It’s why you or so many of your family and friends are counting down the days until Olivia Pope is back on air. And why we’re all guessing what will happen to her mom or her relationship with the President—it’s the cliffhanger.
Leading industry experts say TV shows use mini-cliffhangers to make sure you can’t get enough and keep coming back each season. We all want to see a good ending, how things all work out; that’s what makes a great book…a really great book. So if a cliffhanger is done just right, shows can last for a number of seasons and then find a place in our hearts and minds forever in syndication land.
Number Two: Rapid-fire scenes
Ever wondered why so many shows jump quickly from scene to scene or flash between characters in the same scene? It’s all part of a producer’s master design to keep you glued to the television screen, according to psychologist, Robert Kubey. In an interview with Time, Kubey said rapid-scene changes are so engaging to watch that they cause us to zone out but literally zone in to the show. The next thing you know it’s an hour or two later but it doesn’t feel like it. He said it’s a flashy tactic that commercials have been doing for years. The idea is to keep you focused so you don’t look away and miss something. For example, watching a person have a one-way conversation is not as effective in drawing you in, as say switching back and forth between two characters in a conversation. According to Kubey, this reaction is called orienting reflex, which is wired into our biology. It involves our ability to react to movements around us, like a batter waiting on the ball from the pitcher.
Number Three: Sex
Biology is also the reason why sex on TV gets our attention. Humans are hard-wired to respond to it. Experts say because sex is a basic means of survival and our way to procreate, many people are not turned-off to watching scenes that imply it’s happening.
Number Four: The Controlling Director
Believe it or not there is actual research that shows that the more controlling a director is with show scenes, the more likely you are to watch the show. The findings from a Princeton research team were recently published in the journal Projections.
In the study, researchers found that after looking at fMRI images taken of viewer brains who watched clips from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Alfred Hitchcock’s Bang! Bang! You’re Dead, and an unedited shot of Washington Square Park, a whopping 65 percent had more synced brain activity in response to Hitchcock’s show. That’s why every scene in a Hitchcock movie is intentional and planned out—pointing viewers exactly where he wants them to focus.
Number Five: Violence
Even though it’s hard for many to watch, violence is still attractive and addictive when it comes to television shows and movies. In fact, a recent study by a team of researchers at the University of Augsburg, Germany and the University of Wisconsin-Madison took a closer look at what draws folks to such content. And what they uncovered was quite interesting.
Even though people say they don’t typically like to watch violence, they are more open to the idea if the gory scenes have meaning or purpose behind them. In an online statement, one of the study’s lead authors said, “Depictions of violence that are perceived as meaningful, moving and thought-provoking can foster empathy with victims, admiration for acts of courage and moral beauty in the face of violence, or self-reflection with regard to violent impulses.” There’s other research that also suggests it may be the anticipation, suspense and thrill of violent scenes that draw us in.
So there you have it…the psychology of why television and movies continues to keep us on the edge of our seats. Pass the popcorn please.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.