Why We Choose Certain Television Shows to Maintain Mood Homeostasis

By Samantha Moore

In an age where technology is ubiquitous and stress is at an all time high, media has become a sort of crutch for our generation. If we’re going through a break-up and feel like crying, we might choose One Tree Hill. If we’re stressed and want to mindlessly enjoy a show we might watch Friends or How I Met Your Mother. If we’re in the mood to laugh we might watch New Girl or Big Bang Theory. We unconsciously choose certain shows to feel a certain way, according to Zillmann’s theory of Mood Management. We have a homeostasis that is not only physiological but psychological as well: “Given the ubiquitous availability of a plethora of media offerings, today stimulus rearrangement is more easily available than ever before. According to mood management theory, we learn to navigate this stimulus environment in a way that best suits our hedonic needs through operant learning” (Zillmann). We choose media based on its hedonic valence, which is the direction of emotion the media provides us. For example, we might choose Friends for its positive hedonic valence if we are unconsciously trying to boost our positive affect. We might choose something sadder, like Downton Abbey, if we are trying to purposely experience a negative affect. The media we choose has intervention potential, meaning the ability to disrupt negative thoughts and distract us from our current mood or train of thought. Studies have shown that when an individual is in a stressful situation and is prompted to choose media, they will choose something relaxing and peaceful to create a passive and non-stimulatory experience. If an individual is bored, they are likely to choose media that is highly stimulating and is positively excitatory. Whether or not it seems like it, every time you open Netflix and put on the latest show you’re watching, you are maintaining homeostasis by managing your mood.

 

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9781118783764.wbieme0085/full 

 

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16 Responses to Why We Choose Certain Television Shows to Maintain Mood Homeostasis

  1. mediaphiles says:

    This is a super interesting and very unique post compared to others because it offers a psychological explanation that we do not often think about when choosing a show or sitcom to watch! I definitely relate to choosing a certain show based off of my mood and how I desire to feel after finishing the show. When I am bored I do pick shows that require close attention while I choose shows that do not require this attention when I am doing homework or multi-tasking. This is certainly an unconscious decision, because before reading this article I never really considered this decision as a reflection of my mood and emotions. From now on when choosing a show I will be able to refer to this article, which will help me understand more about my mood and myself as a whole. -Lacey Worsham

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I agree with the previous comment. I hadn’t read a post in a psychological stand point. Like when I want to watch something serious I’ll turn to Greys or Scandal, but if I want something playing in the background casually while I work I might turn to food network or Bob’s Burgers. I feel like I’ll be thinking about this when I watch my next show! -Laya Mohan

  3. mediaphiles says:

    After talking about this in another class as well I have really began to think about how accurate this is. Its definitely true in my case, as when I have had a long day and want to lay down on the couch and relax, I will put something on that has a good storyline that has to be followed carefully so that I can relax and divulge myself in the world on the screen and forget about the long day i have had. If I am in an energetic mood and have a lot going on, I will throw something more mindless on the TV so that if i am not fully invested in watching TV it does not matter as much that I am not paying attention to every second of the show.

  4. mediaphiles says:

    I think you bring up a great point about utilizing external stimuli to counteract the emotional state you’re in. However, have you thought about the idea that certain shows, which parallel our emotions also serve to balance ourselves? Is there something to be said about maintaining a tv watching schedule to maintain the balance as well?– Serena Daya

  5. mediaphiles says:

    I remember learning about this in a media class I took during undergrad. I thought, and still think now how interesting it is that we as humans would rather maintain being in a bad mood rather than watch something that had the potential to lift our spirits. Maybe in order to let the mood pass we need to fully experience being in that current state? I’m not sure but regardless this post was a nice reminder of what we often do while on auto pilot. -Courtney Green

  6. mediaphiles says:

    This post made me realize how I actually do the same thing, how depending on my mood I might decide on what Show I should watch or maybe watch a Movie. Mostly when I’m sad I try to watch something funny and if I’m feeling a little down I might just watch something more relaxing or even romantic. I had no idea there was a psychological part that came with that though. – Jon Baquero

  7. mediaphiles says:

    This is such an interesting blog post. I completely agree with you because I tend to watch shows that correlate with my mood. When I miss my home and my family, I watch Gilmore Girls. When I am feeling happy, I watch Friends. Before reading your post, I was somewhat unaware of the way in which my personal moods affected my choice in shows!
    -Allie Kleinman

  8. mediaphiles says:

    The topic you bring up is very interesting, and I actually can relate to it a lot. For instance, when I feel emotional I watch Grey’s Anatomy, because someone dies almost every episode. In contrast, there are definitely specific shows I watch when I want to feel happy. But there is a difference in the shows I watch to feel happy and the shows I watch to laugh. If I want to feel happy I will watch Friends, but Friends does not make me laugh personally. Instead, I watch Family Guy or Inside Amy Schumer to laugh. For me, there is a difference between the sitcoms that make me happy and the ones that make me laugh. – Andrew Guido

  9. marymdalton says:

    Thought-provoking post! Excellent conversation!

  10. mediaphiles says:

    I love this topic! I almost wrote about this myself , I find it very interesting the types of shows people start to watch and always question why the most popular shows are the most popular. It is a very relevant conversation to have especially with the unlimited tv show watching resources we have access to these days such as Hulu and Netflix.
    -Kendall Fischlein

  11. mediaphiles says:

    I haven’t really considered this before, but you make such a great point! I often turn on television so I can watch it passively when I’m cooking dinner, or so I can feel less alone if nobody is in my apartment. Sometimes I won’t even pay attention to the episode’s plot, and it becomes somewhat like background music.

  12. mediaphiles says:

    I have never thought about that before, but it make total sense! I hate to admit it, but I am definitely the person who has turned on The Notebook after a breakup or watched Friends when I just want to feel good. I think I knew deep down that I was watching these because I was “in the mood” for them, but I never really thought about it as maintaining homeostasis. I really like this idea, though I can’t say I’m very science-savvy. I feel like I will make a much more conscious effort in what I choose to watch now that I know this phenomena, or at least I will make a much more conscious observation of what I do choose to watch. Thanks for bringing this up, so cool!
    -Nicolette McCann

  13. mediaphiles says:

    I love your topic because its talking about the psychological reasons we choose to watch the shows that we do. I feel like whenever I watch a show now I will be thinking about why I chose this show over that show. I think if you look at someone’s recent netflix binging shows it will tell you not only a lot about the person, but a lot about their current state of mind. -Ally Harper

  14. mediaphiles says:

    I could not agree more. Before Netflix, television writers had to target general audiences. With the emergence of Netflix, writers can capture any place on the emotional spectrum, and we can grab our chocolate ice cream and watch a show that matches how we’re feeling. Karly Morgan

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