Media Can Make A Bad Day Worse

Sometimes, it seems like the only thing standing between us weary workers and a Marxist revolution is our nightly cool-down period: that solid hour when we tune into (insert guilty screen-pleasure here) and tune out everything else around us. This kind of escapism just feels so necessary after the mental and emotional trials of the day. Media is the opiate of the masses.
Unfortunately, we may be doing ourselves a disservice by plopping down on the couch and powering up our cable. A new study in the Journal of Communication conducted by researchers at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany and VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands showed that people who came home from a hard day’s work and turned to TV and video games to de-stress actually felt worse after using the entertainment media.
The research involved a survey of 471 participants, who were asked how they felt after the previous day’s demands and what form of media they used to unwind. The subjects who reported feeling the most drained by their daily grind (those who ostensibly needed a mindless, cleansing boost the most) got the least out of their media-fueled downtime. They saw it as time wasted, felt remorse over having chosen video games or TV over more productive tasks, and, in turn, felt less cleansed and revitalized. To them, their downtime represented a lack of self-control — another loss in their “fail” of a day.
These findings go against prior research (and personal experience), which has demonstrated that zoning out and letting our technology entertain us helps us relax and detach from our stressful surroundings — providing a “recovery experience.” In the past, people have reported feeling more energized after a good TV break, and show stronger cognitive performance thanks to their chill-out period. Much like taking a brief walk in the middle of your work day, letting alternate reality wash over you allows your brain time to reset itself.
However, perhaps it’s more to do with cognitive framing — if your terrible, horrible, no good, very-bad day has already put you in a negative mindset, it’s harder for any external stimuli to come across positively. Your mind is predisposed to see the worst. Therefore, it would be interesting to know the types of media with which the participants chose to decompress. Perhaps subjects just weren’t watching upbeat-enough programming, or should’ve been playing Beautiful Katamari instead of violent, aggression-fostering Grand Theft Auto.
Still, as study author Dr. Leonard Reinecke puts it: “In real life...the use of media may conflict with other, less-pleasurable, but more important duties and goals in everyday life.” As much as tuning into E! (and cheering on Kourtney as she berates Kim for wailing over a lost diamond) may help us forget our own troubles, it also might be too guilty of a pleasure. So, the next time you’re feeling particularly wiped out after a stressful day, maybe shut out the tech entirely and go for an analog activity. Stress-cleaning, anyone?

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