Since television became available for streaming over the internet, I’ve realized something that was impossible to notice when I used to watch TV on a programmed schedule. There were a few shows, which shall remain nameless, that I used to watch late at night. The writing in these shows was ingenious, the acting superb, the stories complex, suspenseful, and interesting. One fine day, when I had nothing better to do, I decided to watch a couple episodes of my favorite night time TV shows during the daytime. To my utter amazement, they were terrible! The characters were all emotionally childish idiots, the acting was overwrought in some cases and wooden in others, and the stories (which still had pretty good premises, but were not handled properly) were predictable and much more simple than I had remembered. What had gone wrong? Why did these shows seem so much better late at night?
In fact, nothing had really gone wrong. The only difference was that I was rested and my brain was functioning more fully. In other words, those shows were more enjoyable late at night because I was tired and less of my brain was capable of performing higher brain functions – like whatever level of critical analysis it usually does in the background when I’m rested. Some would probably argue that this observation is moot because there are a few studies showing that television causes an overall reduction in higher brain function anyway. However, I would argue that this probably depends upon what is being watched and whether the viewer is making a conscious effort to think about the content of the programming or not.
Unsurprisingly, psychologists have a term for this phenomenon and its name is “regulatory depletion.” The authors of this article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, for example, explain that judgment (like critical thought) is a form of self-regulation and that any form of self-regulation requires some amount of mental and even physical exertion (this isn’t the main focus of the article, but it’s still in there). Based upon this, one might suppose that tiredness could result in the unwillingness, or even the inability, to exercise the same level of judgment when viewing a TV show or movie as one would when fully rested.
Now then, it seems to me that one could take this information one of two ways. One could either deliberately watch media of questionable quality while tired because they know it will seem more enjoyable, or one could make a conscious effort to think critically about what’s flowing into one’s brain at all times as a matter of vigilance for the personal integrity of one’s subconscious mind in order to avoid the unintended influence of bad writing/acting on one’s thoughts and personality traits. Since I thought of this idea a year or so ago, I’ve probably been doing a little of each. Now that you’ve read this post, the choice is up to you as well.