How What You Watch on TV Affects You

The series you watch can influence your mood, life satisfaction, and health. Find out how to consciously choose the best options for you.
How What You Watch on TV Affects You
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 15 March, 2023

Today, audiovisual media is our main source of entertainment. We spend hours in front of the screen enjoying our favorite shows, entering a semi-drowsy state watching one episode after another. But, have you ever considered how what you watch on TV affects you?

If you take a look at the current popular series, you’ll notice that most of them have rather dark, sad, harsh, or gruesome themes. It’s known that thrillers have certain components that make them an eye-catching and addictive genre. However, can watching these types of scenes and narratives negatively affect you? On the other hand, can comedies improve your humor?

girl watching tv
Series with happy and fun content favor a positive emotional state.

Comedy series improve your mood

No doubt, you already know this. Indeed, comedy shows are capable of cheering you up, relieving stress, and connecting you with positive and pleasant emotions. As you watch them, your problems seem to dissolve. Moreover, you feel more encouraged to relativize and feel calmer and more optimistic.

In fact, you may even have your own ‘comfort’ shows. They’re the kinds that you’ve watched repeatedly because they make you feel good. You’re attracted to them by their warmth and the familiarity they generate in you. In fact, when you watch them, you create a kind of bubble around you in which you can escape from the outside world.

Interestingly, the beneficial effects of these cheerful and endearing series aren’t limited to the psychological level, but can also influence the physical. For example, a study conducted in 2003 found that watching a comedy show can alter blood glucose levels, suppressing their rise after a meal. Furthermore, positive emotions are capable of modulating neuroendocrine factors and immune function.

What you watch on TV affects your negative emotions

However, what happens with drama, suspense, or horror programs? These cause emotions such as fear, tension, and sadness, sensations that you normally want to avoid.

But, when viewing series of this type, the levels of adrenaline in your body shoot up. Your levels of dopamine also increase, related to intense sensations of well-being and pleasure. This is especially true of individuals with a novelty-seeking or sensation-seeking type of personality.

You’re also experiencing these emotions in a safe and controlled environment. In effect, you know that nothing bad is going to happen to you. You also have control over when to stop watching, thus you can eliminate the stimulation and emotions you’re experiencing.

On the other hand, this type of audiovisual content can help you overcome traumas or adverse situations from the past by seeing how others deal with and overcome adversity. It can even involve a kind of mental training regarding decision-making and the appropriate way to respond in threatening situations.

Choose your programs carefully

Sadly, it’s not all good news. Indeed, the way in which series affect you isn’t always positive. For example, horror movies are prone to causing insomnia, nightmares, and other sleep disorders in children, making them a particularly vulnerable population. That said, adults who also suffer from these disorders can be negatively affected by these kinds of shows.

In addition, shows with sad or dramatic content can worsen depressive states. This happens for several reasons. On the one hand, depressed individuals feel more attracted to this type of content and find it difficult to connect with more light-hearted themes (which are the ones that could really improve their mood). On the other hand, watching sad series makes them recreate their suffering, negative cognition, and emotions, thus perpetuating their discomfort.

Furthermore, an association has been found between depression, isolation, and binge- watching . This trend, now increasingly common, refers to the fact of bingeing on series, something you tend to do when your mood is low. However, paradoxically, you sometimes end up making your state of mind even more intense at the end of your binge-viewing session.

Interestingly, consuming light-hearted programs or comedies isn’t always positive either, since these are likely to cause addiction. In fact, the feelings of well-being they bring and the emotional bond that they generate with their plots and characters can make you lose interest in your own relationships and real experiences. In effect, you end up preferring to observe virtual lives rather than live your own.

Sad girl watching a series
Series with sad themes favor negative emotional states.

Be aware of what you watch on TV and how it affects you

As you can see, this is quite a complex subject as all genres have pros and cons. In order to benefit from the entertainment and well-being that they provide you and avoid their disadvantages, you must take two issues into account.

On the one hand, you must control your consumption. Otherwise, you can make the mistake of spending a large part of the day in front of the screen. In addition, it’s important that you consider your current mood and what you need. For example, if you’re feeling low, you should avoid the drama genre.

Finally, make sure you always choose what you watch carefully. Remember that screens can pose a risk at certain times or if they’re used excessively.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Azza Abdel-Azim, M. A.  (2017). New era of TV-watching behavior: binge watching and its psychological effects. Media Watch8(2), 192-207.
  • Hayashi, K., Hayashi, T., Iwanaga, S., & Kawai, K. (2003). Laughter lowered the increase in postprandial blood glucose. Diabetes care26(5), 1651.
  • Hudson, M., Seppälä, K., Putkinen, V., Sun, L., Glerean, E., Karjalainen, T., … & Nummenmaa, L. (2020). Dissociable neural systems for unconditioned acute and sustained fear. NeuroImage216, 116522.
  • NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. (2006) “Halloween Horror Movies May Cause Emotional Problems In Young Children.” ScienceDaily.
  • Podraza, M. (2021). Forty years later: Laurie Strode and the survival of the Final Girl. Horror Studies12(1), 133-147.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.