Friday, April 24, 2009

"All I need is a TV show..."


A Warm TV Can Drive Away Feelings of Loneliness & Rejection

Studies find that illusionary relationships with TV characters can give us real pleasure

Release Date: April 22, 2009

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Not all technology meets human needs, and some technologies provide only the illusion of having met your needs.

But new research by psychologists at the University at Buffalo and Miami University, Ohio, indicates that illusionary relationships with the characters and personalities on favorite TV shows can provide people with feelings of belonging, even in the face of low self esteem or after being rejected by friends or family members.

The findings are described in four studies published in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology [Derrick et al., 2009].
However, after some sleuthing to uncover the classical literature on the topic, I've discovered that Rutherford et al. (1980) described this phenomenon nearly 30 years ago:



You're just another face that I know from the TV show
I have known you for so very long I feel you like a friend
Can't you do anything for me, can I touch you for a while
Can I meet you on another day and we will fly away

Turn It On Again
------Rutherford et al. 1980

Derrick et al., 2009 replicated this finding in a series of four experiments, all of which supported the Social Surrogacy Hypothesis, i.e.,
...that parasocial relationships provided by television programs can yield the experience of belonging. Specifically, we drew three primary predictions from the Social Surrogacy Hypothesis. If favorite television programs can yield the experience of belonging, we hypothesized that (1) events that typically elicit belongingness needs (e.g., threats to a relationship, a rejection experience) would elicit a desire to experience a favored television program, (2) thinking about a favored television program could buffer against threats to real-world belongingness, and (3) thinking about a favored television program should reduce the accessibility of loneliness related concepts.
In Study 1, 701 college students completed the lonely activities scale and the likelihood of feeling lonely scale. These scales were developed for the current study by asking 12 other undergraduates to list non-social activities that people might do when they feel lonely. A final list of 31 activities was given to the larger group, who were asked to rate the items on a scale of 1 (would definitely not do) to 7 (definitely would do). The top six items were:
  • Listen to music – a particular CD/tape
  • Watch television – a favorite TV program
  • Sleep
  • Surf the web
  • Eat
  • Exercise
Participants were also asked to rate their likeliness of feeling lonely when doing these activities, on the same 7 point scale. And not surprisingly (since we already know that all of the experiments supported the hypothesis), people felt significantly less lonely when watching TV.

Of course, this result was only correlational in nature, so Study 2 manipulated "belongingness needs". Half of the participants were asked to write an essay about a fight with a close other, and the other half were asked to list as many items at home as they could remember. I would have suggested a better neutral essay-writing condition than the residental list, along with a condition to deliberately reduce "belongingness needs" (like an essay about an enjoyable shared experience with a close other). But then again, I'm not a social psychologist, so what do I know?

After the first writing exercise, subjects were asked to write another essay about watching either a favorite show, or whatever was on at the time.
Participants in the Favored condition wrote about a time they watched their favorite television program, describing it in as much detail as possible. Participants in the Control condition wrote about a time when they had watched “whatever was on” television, describing it in as much detail as possible. Participants were asked to describe as much as they could about the content of the program and their experience watching it. Length of time writing this Parasocial essay served as the primary dependent measure.
Lo and behold, the predicted Belongingness Needs × Parasocial Essay interaction was obtained:


Fig. 1 (Derrick et al., 2009). Length of time spent writing television essay as a function of social needs condition and type of television program.

Study 3 was nearly identical to Study 2, except the Parasocial Essay component was limited to 6 min, and the dependent measures were self-esteem, mood, and feelings of rejection. Again, the predicted Belongingness Needs × Parasocial Essay interactions were obtained for state self-esteem, mood, and a trend for feelings of rejection.

Now the authors need to extend these findings to actually watching a favorite vs. a random TV show, instead of just thinking about watching.

See also:

TV Relieves Loneliness

Does Your TV Give You the Warm Fuzzies?

References

Derrick, J., Gabriel, S., & Hugenberg, K. (2009). Social surrogacy: How favored television programs provide the experience of belonging. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45 (2), 352-362. DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2008.12.003

Rutherford M, Collins P, Banks T. (1980). Turn It On Again. Duke.



All I need is a TV show, that and the radio
Down on my luck again, down on my luck again
I can show you I can show you some of the people in my life
I can show you I can show you some of the people in my life
It's driving me mad just another way of passing the day
I, I get so lonely when she's not there

Turn It On Again
------Rutherford et al. 1980

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3 Comments:

At April 24, 2009 7:31 PM, Blogger Paper Hand said...

So that's why TV is so popular! I've always wondered why people would waste so much time sitting in front of the TV.

 
At June 17, 2010 10:51 AM, Anonymous Rodney Daut said...

This is fascinating. It's good that TV has some real benefits and that it's not all bad for us. Also, there are studies that show that it can help improve societies. In India villages that got TV had improved circumstances for women over those villages that did not. So there can be many benefits.

 
At July 12, 2010 4:12 AM, Anonymous Watch TV Shows said...

Its a very good post.
This is fascinating. It's good that TV has some real benefits and that it's not all bad for us. Also, there are studies that show that it can help improve societies.

 

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