By Samantha Moore
Back with another edition of applying psychology to television shows! Have you ever thought about why certain plot lines and stories appeal more to you than others? Well, it’s partly because of the Self-Determination Theory. The theory states that there are three basic needs to fulfill to be psychologically satisfied: competence, relatedness and autonomy. Competence and relatedness are two of the reasons we are drawn to more complex story lines than others. As individuals, we like to be challenged just enough to keep it interesting and keep us engaged in what is happening, but not too complex as the audience will lose interest in trying to understand the plot lines and story arch. We like to feel competence in our daily lives. The concept of eudaimonia, which is essentially acknowledging our own emotions and happiness, is born through this competence. A normally functioning person, even at a fundamental and subconscious level, derives pleasure or feeling of competence from experiencing emotion. We value the ability to reflect on our own emotional experiences, which is what can drive us to watch sad television shows or movies. We also thrive on autonomy and feel a sense of accomplishment when we deem ourselves competent in an activity or area of study. If you can successfully explain the plot line of a complex show—House of Cards for example—you might feel a slight sense of competence and accomplishment. However, personally when I’m watching shows like Family Guy I often lose focus because the storyline is not challenging enough or is too boring. Since we all spend so much of our time watching tv shows, it makes sense to understand even further why we choose the shows we watch. If we knew what was going to happen in every episode would we still watch? If we could predict the twists and turns of a story arch would we still be as intrigued by certain shows? The complexity of a narrative in a television show matters and can affect our choices and interests in that regard.