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Why do I watch TV shows and can't refuse it?

You are not alone. Watching TV is the most popular pastime in industrialized countries: on average, people spend three hours a day watching TV, which is about half of their leisure time. For a life of 75 years, TV shows are spent up to 9 years. And of all the available TV shows, the series captures our attention most of all. Maybe they cause addiction?

Why do we watch TV more than we need?

There is nothing wrong with watching TV, unless you think otherwise. People who watch TV for less than two hours a day are not too worried. But avid viewers, spending four hours a day or more, say they would prefer to spend less time in front of the screen. They watch TV more than they plan, but they can't just turn off the TV and go. Researchers Robert Kyuubi and Mihai Ciksikentmihai discovered that this is true, although the more people watch TV, the less they like it, judging by the reports of the "intensive consumers" of TV.

Indeed, the Kyuubi and Cikszentmikhai saw a lot of similarities between those who often watch TV and dependent people. For example, in both groups, people made repeated (unsuccessful) attempts to reduce "consumption"; in both groups, it caused withdrawal syndrome; and there, and there "consumption" occurred more often than people would like; and in both groups, people spent a lot of time on the "drug", be it TV or cocaine.

Kyuubi later said that the evidence confirming that TV causes clinical dependence is not enough, but the TV definitely grabs our attention so that it is difficult to resist.

Kyuubi and Chikszentmikhai believe that TV triggers an indicative reflex in us — an instinctive visual and auditory response to any sudden or new environmental stimulus. If we hear something fall, we turn around to see what it is. If a moving object appears nearby, we automatically look around at it.

This means that the TV is attractive for the “built-in” motion sensitivity that we developed in the distant past in order to notice and track threats to our survival. This seems like a compelling reason to check out the flickering noisy box in the corner. But why don't we turn it off when we realize that it is not only not a threat, but also not very interesting?

Why do we watch TV shows? Is there any benefit from soap operas?

Addicted to soap operas can give a lot of reasons why they are interesting, important and informative. Teenagers claim that the series opens them a window into the world of adults and provide valuable information. They like to reflect on how different heroes resolve everyday conflicts arising from the scenario, to guess how they would cope with the situation. As well as adult viewers, they like to discuss stories and characters with family and friends. This all enriches social experience: it promotes learning, imagination and communication with real people after viewing.

Evolutionary social psychologists say that people lived in small related groups for three million years. Scientists believe that in many ways our thinking and actions are evolutionarily aimed at solving the problems of living in groups: people in different countries have extensive dictionaries to describe how open a person is to cooperate or have power, is a potential leader, enemy or friend.

There is even a hypothesis, in accordance with which the intelligence of primates has developed mainly for solving complex social problems, and not for finding food and using tools.

Robin Dunbar’s theory of social gossip asserts that the language has appeared in people so that we can sort out complex social relationships and find ways to support them in large groups. That is, for survival, it was always important for us to find ways to communicate with each other and live side by side, and language, behavior, and even thinking developed mainly from social interactions.

Just as the orienting reflex is an ancient instinct that is triggered by a noisy, flickering TV, our need to constantly replenish knowledge about everyday relationships and interactions is a manifestation of the driving force of evolution.

In addition, another explanation is possible: the laws of human memory. In 1927, the psychologist Blum Zeigarnik described how people in the series of experiments were interrupted during the assignment and were not allowed to finish it - and then it was remembered 90% better. This explains why the waiters in the restaurant remember the entire order without recording, but forget about it as soon as the bill is paid. The human mind remembers everything that still needs to be done (or learned).

The work of Zeigarnik inspired other scientists to study the human inclination to “return” to the unfinished action and to create a theory of completion (the need to complete the work).

Our deep reluctance to stop halfway can also explain why we sit down on TV shows of various kinds, starting with Victorian magazines edited by Charles Dickens and ending with modern soap operas. Zeigarnik discovered that her subjects strongly objected if they were interrupted: when something had already begun, we wanted to know how it would end. Especially if this is some kind of story, and even more so if the plot is based on human relationships.

So, it seems that we are evolutionarily programmed to respond to television and stories that never end. It's amazing that we even find time for something else!