Why People Like Watching the Same Thing Over and Over Again

Family Watching Television

Choosing to repeat an activity can be about seeking a familiar reward and gaining insight into personal growth by comparing past experiences to present ones.

There’s a reason why people are spending money on television show DVDs and Blu-rays that are essentially reruns, but this behavior is more complicated than previously thought.

Cristel Antonia Russell, a marketing professor at American University, and Sidney J. Levy, a marketing professor at the University of Arizona, published their findings in the Journal of Consumer Research. People use familiar entertainment to measure how their lives changed in positive ways. The researchers conducted interviews of 23 subjects, all of whom had recently “reconsumed” a book, movie, or vacation spot. The scientists used open-ended questions to elicit long and descriptive, first-person answers. Then, they analyzed the transcripts for recurring themes and key phrases.

The responses indicated that sometimes choosing to do something again was about reaching for something sure, when the brain knows exactly the kind of reward it would receive at the end, whether it was laughter, excitement, or relaxation.

People also gained insight into themselves and their own personal growth by going back and doing something again, subconsciously using the rerun or old book as a measuring stick for how their own lives had changed.

One woman rewatched a movie more than once, and this helped her work through having an engagement that didn’t work out. Every time she watched the movie, it reminded her of her own failed relationship and her reactions helped her see that she was getting over it.

Scientists had thought that people reconsumed these things for nostalgia, but instead, people were very forward-looking and prospective.

Reference: “The Temporal and Focal Dynamics of Volitional Reconsumption: A Phenomenological Investigation of Repeated Hedonic Experiences” by Cristel Antonia Russell and Sidney J. Levy, 28 October 2011, Journal of Consumer Research.
DOI: 10.1086/662996

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