It seems common practice: After a long day at work, most people sometimes just want to turn on the TV or play a video or computer game to calm down and relax. However, in a study recently published in the Journal of Communication researchers at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany and VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands found that people who were highly stressed after work did not feel relaxed or recovered when they watched TV or played computer or video games. Instead, they tended to show increased levels of guilt and feelings of failure.
In a joint survey research project, Dr. Leonard Reinecke of the Department of Communication at Mainz University and Dr. Tilo Hartmann and Dr. Allison Eden of the Department of Communication Science at the University of Amsterdam asked a total of 471 study participants about their previous day, how they felt after work or school, and what media they turned to at the end of the day. The researchers found that those who felt particularly wiped out after work or school were more inclined to feel that their media use was wasted time and procrastination. They felt guilty for having given in to their desire of watching TV or playing a video game instead of taking care of more important tasks. In consequence, these people felt less recovered and revitalized, diminishing the positive effects of media use.
The results suggest a paradoxical pattern between depletion and media-induced recovery: Those who could have benefited the most from recovery through media use instead experienced less recovery because they were more prone to think of their media use as a failure in self-control.
Prior research has shown that the use of entertaining media produces a recovery experience that helps people relax and detach from the stresses of work, but also provides mastery experience and a feeling of control. As a result, people feel energized and more vital after media use and even show stronger cognitive performance thanks to media-induced recovery.
"We are beginning to better understand that media use can have beneficial effects for people's well-being through media-induced recovery. Our present study is an important step towards a deeper understanding of this. It demonstrates that in real life the relationship between media use and well-being is complicated and that the use of media may conflict with other, less pleasurable but more important duties and goals in everyday life," said Dr. Leonard Reinecke, lead author of the study. "We are starting to look at media use as a cause of depletion. In times of smartphones and mobile Internet, the ubiquitous availability of content and communication often seems to be a burden and a stressor rather than a recovery resource."
- Leonard Reinecke, Tilo Hartmann, Allison Eden. The Guilty Couch Potato: The Role of Ego Depletion in Reducing Recovery Through Media Use. Journal of Communication, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/jcom.12107
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