Watching Friends or How I Met Your Mother for the umpteenth time and finding solace in their friendships, or leaving the Office playing while you fall asleep, we all have a special place for old shows and movies in our hearts. They’re a source of indescribable emotional comfort that takes you back to happier times. They’re the closest thing to a time capsule, there to open when you’re tired of the present and right now I’m sure you’d agree that anywhere is better than 2020. Most people indulge in this behaviour, but there is scientific reasoning why watching the same tv shows and movies is so common.
Watching the same TV shows and movies is easier than choosing a new one
You only have limited hours to unwind after an exhausting day and you want to feel rewarded after watching a show. Imagine being dead tired and then watching a New Salman Khan movie (sorry, Salman fans), most people would be left with a headache. Or even a film that seems promising but bores you by the end of it. Yes, I pride myself for watching something new but what’s the point when it wasn’t fulfilling at all. We’re living in the age of unlimited new content presented to us almost every day. This novelty can be highly exciting and thrilling and keep us hinged to platforms such as Netflix and Amazon. For example, Indian Matchmaking, Bulbul or Tiger King grabbed people’s attention and the shows were discussed at length on social media. But with no guarantee that the show will be worth the 1 hour of scheduled unwinding, an easier choice would be to choose an already watched program.
There are so many options that one feels overwhelmed by the number of choices we have. Browsing Netlfix almost feels like a chore. If you’re like me and watch Netflix while eating a meal, you’re aware of the struggle. I end up spending 20 minutes just selecting a good movie to watch and by then my food’s gone cold.
Research proves that having too many options can actually be a bad thing. The presence of too many alternatives can lead to being dissatisfied with the choice made because it creates the inclination to wonder if the other option could have been better. It’s kind of like when you’re at the ice-cream store and there are 30 odd-flavours, you definitely feel like you picked the wrong one because ‘hey, strawberry cheesecake could’ve been so much better’.
So, after browsing Netflix or Amazon for a solid 30 minutes, people are likely to settle for rewatching a show. A choice that they know will not disappoint.
You know exactly what’s going to happen next and that gives you a sense of power and control
Watching the same TV shows and movies, with characters that we know all too well, invokes a sense of control and weirdly, power. There’s control over the narrative, we know the curve of the conflict and resolution in the episode or movie, and yet, we feel the wave of emotions all over again. Let’s take the movie, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, an all-time favourite. We relive the strained friendship of Arjun and Imraan, Javed Akthar’s beautiful poetry, Arjun and Laila’s romance, Arjun’s life-changing moment after scuba-diving and many more.
Our emotions are flowing in a manner that we’re familiar with, which is an immensely comforting experience. Researchers Cristel Russell and Sidney Levy have called this ‘experiential control’ which provides people with ‘emotional regulation’. This refers to the fact that we know exactly what kind of emotional pay off watching the same TV show or movie will give us.
Why I mentioned power was because at some level it feels like the characters are following your commands. Also, you know exactly what’s going to come next to every detail. Elizabeth Margulis, the author of On Repeat, named this as a ‘conjuring power’, further explaining that even though it’s not actual power, there is great satisfaction derived off it. This type of experience is only possible because of watching the same shows and movies repetitively.
According to science, we tend to like things more when they’re familiar to us
Apart from the predictability of the show, it’s a scientific fact that the more we’re exposed to something, the more fond of it we grow. This is based on the ‘mere exposure effect’. According to scientists the more you see or hear something, you more you like it. In other words, we tend to like things more when they’re familiar to us. It’s obvious that you are going to be more fond of Jake from Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Abhijeet from CID than a new-upcoming character from a detective show. You like them because you get the feeling that you know them, you know their catchphrases, likes and dislikes, their quirks and above all, you absolutely love them.
We’re suckers for nostalgia and for good reasons
The main reason why we go back to watching the same TV shows and movies though is the nostalgia factor.
Originally, nostalgia was described as a “neurological disease of essentially demonic cause” by Johannes Hoffer, the Swiss doctor who coined the term in 1688. It had a strange history, but now scientists have found several benefits associated with the term. People don’t consider it as a sickness anymore but a way for us to get through hard times. In an experiment in the Netherlands, researchers from Tilburg University found that listening to songs made people feel not only nostalgic but also warmer physically. It feels like you’re in that time frame again. Like when you listen to High School Musical or the soundtrack of Kal Ho Na Ho, don’t you get a bittersweet euphoria that takes you through the passage of time? This feeling doesn’t just figuratively make you feel warmer but quite literally. Another study that studied MRI scans of people feeling nostalgia showed that there was significant brain activity in the ‘reward centre’ that is responsible for positive feelings.
Nostalgia calms us down and gives us a sense of comfort
Nostalgia can also be therapeutic and calm us down from chaotic emotions such as stress and anxiety.“Nostalgia helps remind us that we do have some control during a time of great uncertainty,” says licensed psychologist Krystine I. Batcho, PhD, who has done several research studies on the psychology of nostalgia.’ So, when everything seems out of control such as our current situation in the pandemic, relying on old shows for comfort might not be a bad idea.
We are living in difficult times and we need a sense of belonging and warmth more than ever. So, go on and rewatch all the shows you loved as a kid, and the ones that remind you of simpler times.