How do you choose what you watch on TV? According to ‘Gratification Theory’, we select certain programs to meet our particular goals and needs. What do your choices tell you about your needs?

If you need to change your mood, you might choose to watch The Big Bang Theory or re-runs of Frasier. If you feel sad, or want to distract yourself from a stressful day at work, the hope is that watching those shows will uplift your mood. Is it the same when you choose to watch Game of Thrones?

The TV series Game of Thrones has captivated viewers around the world and attracted a huge fan base – as well as criticism, for depicting sexual violence and gruesome deaths. What do we think about when we choose to watch shows portraying violence, especially sexual violence and violent deaths? Are we trying to escape reality and just focusing on something that is not mundane, stressful or overly deep? Game of Thrones is hardly the first show with sexual, violent and death-related content. It is also set in a fantasy realm that might make the extreme imagery seem more escapist and more palatable to watch. Perhaps less frequently but still explicitly, other acclaimed TV series like The Sopranos or Boardwalk Empire feature scenes of nudity, sex and death.

Gruesome gratification

What makes us interested in movies heavy with sex and death content? Apparently, thoughts about death actually influence how we think about sex. In one study, when participants were prompted to think about death and dying their willingness to engage in risky sexual behaviours (such as unprotected sex on a first date) increased. Is it possible when we think about our own death we feel like procreating or just recreating? Or perhaps thoughts about death and dying are so uncomfortable that we welcome the distractions provided by sexual thoughts. One study even suggested that people preoccupied with thoughts of death tell more stories with explicit sexual messages.

Besides themes of sex and death, violence depicted in some of the shows is quite stomach turning. By watching so much violence in the mass media do we become more desensitised and more aggressive in our daily lives? There are several highly researched theories and models that can help us in understanding aggressive behaviour more effectively. Some researchers suggest that a person who is prone to aggression can be triggered to display aggression by almost anything in their environment. Whereas a person who possesses some hostile beliefs, attitudes, intentions, goals or values is more likely to act more aggressively when he or she is exposed to violent media, provocation, pain, heat or aggressive behaviour ? and has access to weapons.

Is violence being validated?

Perhaps we are not turning into bloodthirsty, violence-seeking monsters due to ingesting violent entertainment over many years of television watching. Around 2000 years ago people gathered publicly to watch gladiators fight to the death in real life. Today, we can watch make-believe deaths in the comfort of our own home, courtesy of the TV.

Or, by viewing so much violence have we become desensitised to the point where we don’t even cringe when something horrible is shown in real life or in news media reports.  By believing the well-worn fictional storylines, which teach that sometimes violence is justified and that bad guys have to die because they deserve to be killed, and by validation from supportive peers who think like us, violence is made normal and may even be cool.

A dose of good humour

Perhaps tonight, as you settle into your couch, take the chance to watch something different, watch that episode of Frasier. According to Gratification Theory, while it won’t satisfy your sensation-seeking need, watching a witty, funny, good-natured sitcom will surely address your mood management need.

In addition, there is evidence to support the notion that humor can attenuate negative mood as a distraction, so when your favorite sitcom captures your attention, it is simply difficult to focus on your low mood at the same time.

A psychologist can help you to address your emotional or mood problems long-term. Watching light comedies alone will not resolve these issues. But it’s not just a bias towards psychiatry professional characters that makes many psychologists favour Frasier over Game of Thrones for leisuretime viewing. Laughter offers a great alternative to drinking in imagery of sex, death and aggression.

Splashes of good humour will help you to elevate your mood, even just for the night, and sometimes that?s just what you need.
Posted August 17, 2014 by Yuliya Richard.

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