It is not uncommon to become attached to fictional characters and take a deep interest in their onscreen lives. When an unfortunate event takes places in a television character’s life, many viewers find themselves struggling to hold back their tears. Such an emotional connect is more often than not mocked by family and friends. But now people who constantly face ridicule for crying over television shows can rejoice – it can do wonders to your health.
According to psychology experts, attachment to television characters can increase self-respect, decrease feelings of solitude and lead to a feeling of belonging. As per Jennifer Barnes, assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Oklahoma, the human brain is unable to differentiate between a real and a fictional relationship. Accordingly, forming emotional bonds with characters from television shows can result in benefits which are similar to those in real-life friendships.
Philosophers have, over the centuries, written about a puzzling feature called the paradox of tragedy, whereby viewers derive pleasure from tragic, fictional works of art. Crying while watching sad events unfold on television shows and simultaneously enjoying it may be considered a modern-day equivalent of the paradox of tragedy. According to Barnes, feelings of sadness in real-life situations are deemed to be negative emotions and tragic fiction also evokes sad feelings. In spite of that, people enjoy watching sad television shows. The relationships formed with fictional characters are termed parasocial (one-sided or non-reciprocal), because viewers know everything about onscreen characters but not the other way around.
One of the explanations for the paradox is that sad, fictional situations purge negative emotions and provide catharsis. Fictitious characters become the catalysts who cause the release of negative emotions. This could also be a possible reason why people feel better when they cry. Barnes states that being in the company of an onscreen person every week for the duration of a television season leads to friendship or attachment. If a negative event happens in such a person’s life, an emotional response from the viewer is justified.
Attachment with onscreen characters also enables better recognition of emotions and thoughts in other people. In 2015, Barnes and a co-author conducted a study in which one group of people watched an episode of “The Good Wife” and another group watched a non-fiction documentary or did not watch television at all. The authors found that people who watched the fictional drama correctly recognized emotions in photos of human faces than the other group, thereby suggesting that watching television dramas can boost emotional intelligence.
Moderation is advised even in the case of watching television dramas. Binge watching shows, particularly those with over-emotional content, can give rise to feelings of dismay and sadness. People who have been diagnosed with mental health issue can be more significantly impacted due to these emotions. According to Barnes, fictional events can trigger feelings of intense sadness but they are not expected to last beyond a couple of hours. If the feeling of sadness continues for several days or weeks and causes distress in day-to-day life, it indicates that too much involvement is going in a wrong direction.
Barnes also cautions that the emotional connect and empathy should not be restricted to onscreen characters only. The same feelings should arise in the case of people, including ones who may be strangers. People sometimes feel emotionally connected and disturbed in relation to a fictional character, but the same feeling does not emanate in relation to an acquaintance or a colleague.
Watching emotional content on television or other media is good as long as it does not interfere with the normal functioning of daily life. If it leads to prolonged periods of sadness or low moods, it may cause anxiety or depression. If you or your loved one is showing symptoms of poor mental health, it is advisable that you seek professional help. A combination of therapy and medication is usually recommended based on professional diagnosis. The Arizona Mental Health Helpline can provide more information on the finest mental health disorder treatment centers in Arizona that are equipped with evidence-based treatment plans. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-606-7791 or chat online with experts to know more about the best mental health treatment centers in Arizona.