Take that, mom! Watching TV doesn’t always fry my brain, at least according to a recent study published in the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts. The study found that watching critically acclaimed or “high-brow” TV dramas can actually increase your emotional awareness or make you more empathetic, according to CBS News.
Just how in the world do you test something like that? Well, social scientists at the University of Oklahoma started by randomly assigning 100 people to watch something: either a TV drama (“Mad Men” or “The West Wing,”) or a documentary (“How The Universe Works” or “Shark Week: Jaws Strikes Back”), according to Esquire.
After watching the shows, the participants took a “Reading the Mind Through the Eyes” test, where they were shown photos of 36 pairs of eyes and asked to interpret the emotions they perceived.
These first results showed that those who watched the fictionalized TV shows did a better job of reading emotions than those who watched the non-fiction shows.
The social scientists repeated the test, but on the second time they switched the TV dramas to “The Good Wife” and “Lost” and the documentaries to “NOVA Colosseum” and “Through the Wormhole.”
The researchers also added a control group that didn’t watch any TV at all, according to New York Magazine. When the two groups were tested on their abilities to read the emotions in the 36 pairs of eyes, the fiction-TV viewers had the highest emotion-reading scores, while the nonfiction viewers still scored higher than the participants who didn’t watch any TV at all.
What does this mean? The researchers said it means that paying attention to an emotional narrative can help people understand what’s going on in another person’s head, and then predict their emotions or actions accordingly, according to Esquire.
According to New York Mag, this finding is similar to a 2013 study that found that reading literary fiction is linked to better scores on the same empathy-measuring test. That study was widely critiqued, though, because the authors chose Smithsonian articles, which had titles like “How the Potato Changed the World,” for the non-fiction reading group.
New York Mag pointed out that it’s no wonder people in that study weren’t as good at reading human emotions after reading about potatoes.
Could this study be similar, since the participants simply weren’t watching documentaries about humans or human emotions? It’s unclear, but what is clear is that the shows you’re most likely to binge watch actually might be doing your brain some emotional good!