Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Quick Studies

couchpotatoes

(Photo: Public Domain)

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

• August 26, 2014 • 7:15 AM

(Photo: Public Domain)

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

You’re in your La-Z-Boy, on your third-consecutive episode of your latest Netflix obsession. By all outward appearances, you’re relaxed. Content. But there’s a voice gnawing at you from inside. It’s the same voice that’s always there when you watch television. “Go outside,” it says. “Read a book. Clean the house. Get some work done. You have deadlines.”

You try to ignore it but it’s there, and it grows louder as you debate whether to hit “play” after the option to keep watching pops up.

In short, you feel guilty. According to new research published in the Journal of Communication, that’s probably because you’re “ego-depleted.” More on that in a moment.

“A fast-growing body of research, however, demonstrates that media use can have a great variety of positive effects on psychological well-being.

So why do some people feel guilty when they watch TV while others just feel refreshed? Researchers in Germany and the Netherlands wanted to know, so they created a survey for 635 participants. Some of the subjects were recruited via a popular German gaming site, and others were psychology and communication students at Swiss and German universities. From there, they identified 471 people who had both worked and watched TV or played a video game the previous day. The survey asked about the respondents’ recent media-consumption experience, including their feelings of procrastination, guilt, and revitalization.

There were also questions meant to determine whether someone was “ego-depleted”—a condition that results, the study says, from a constant state of “making decisions, adjusting to social norms, avoiding mistakes, and many other tasks frequently encountered in daily life.”

It turns out that the people who feel guiltiest about indulging in TV were also the most ego-depleted. The study—whose title, “The Guilty Couch Potato,” is among the better ones we’ve seen—found that people who have a negative perception of media consumption derive fewer recovery benefits from watching TV and playing video games.

“Rather than seeing it as a guilty pleasure, a waste of time, and a proof of one’s own self-regulatory failure, it makes sense to also look at the bright side and think of media use as a deserved treat after a long working day and an effective recovery strategy that may help us to be more productive afterwards,” says Leonard Reinecke, one of the paper’s authors. “This way, we do not have to look at media use as a destructive behavior but as a helpful and productive coping strategy.”

He emphasizes, of course, that TV shouldn’t be our only way to retreat from stress, that time in front of screens should stay within reasonable limits, and that we should combine it with other important activities in our attempts to unwind.

Still, Reinecke says, it’s time to de-stigmatize entertainment: “For a long time, the public discourse has focused on the negative and unintended effects of media entertainment,” he says. “A fast-growing body of research, however, demonstrates that media use can have a great variety of positive effects on psychological well-being.

So go ahead, hit “play.” And don’t feel guilty about it.


Rosie Spinks contributed reporting. 

Avital Andrews
Avital Andrews writes about thought leaders, environmental issues, food, and travel. She also reports for Sierra, the Los Angeles Times, and the Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @avitalb.

More From Avital Andrews

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 24 • 8:00 AM

What Do Clowns Think of Clowns?

Three major players weigh in on the current state of the clown.


October 24 • 7:13 AM

There Is No Surge in Illegal Immigration

The overall rate of illegal immigration has actually decreased significantly in the last 10 years. The time is ripe for immigration reform.


October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.


October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.


October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


October 22 • 4:00 AM

For Preschoolers, Spite and Smarts Go Together

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.


October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


Follow us


Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.