Mental tiredness can obstruct the important benefits of watching TV

Mental tiredness can obstruct the important benefits of watching TV

Mental, physical and emotional effort can result in us being “ego depleted”, which means we are running low on the resource needed for those kinds of effort. In this state we are less likely to benefit from the relaxation of watching TV.
Watching TV and playing video games may feel like a bit of lazy time-out to us sometimes, but can actually be very useful in aiding recovery from stress according to some studies. On the other hand, some studies show the opposite.
Leonard Reinecke et al looked into why some people benefitted from media usage and some didn’t. They found that people’s own appraisal of their media usage affected whether they benefitted or not. It seems that if someone is ego-depleted they are more likely to feel that watching TV is a waste of time and that they are putting off more important things that they should be doing. This prevented them from relaxing properly and reaping the down-time benefits of watching TV or playing games.
Those who were not ego-depleted were less likely to feel worried about wasting time and were able to gain the full benefits of the relaxation.
This, of course, causes an awkward situation: those who most need the relaxation of watching TV (those who are ego-depleted) are least likely to get it.
I should add that these findings in some ways go against other research into subjects like ego depletion. For example, ego depletion generally makes people less likely to feel guilty, so it is unclear why they felt guilty in this case.

Parole judges should snack regularly.

Parole judges should snack regularly.

Parole judges should snack regularly – as should anyone who makes important decisions.
One of the problems with being ego-depleted (when the combined resource for mental, emotional and physical effort has been drained) is the difficulty in putting effort into decision making. In this state of ego-depletion you are more likely to fall back on whatever the default option is, rather than investigating all the possibilities and carefully choosing the best one.
Danziger et al studied the timings and decisions of parole judges. Their job was to decide whether a prisoner should be granted parole or not, with the default position being that they should not – that is, they were to be granted parole only if there was a good reason. At the start of the day about 65% of prisoners were granted parole. This gradually went down until, for a period of time before lunch, almost no prisoners would be given it. After lunch the rate went back up to 65% and gradually declined once more. The longer it had been since the judges took a break and food, the more likely they were to defer to the easy option – the default judgement of no parole.
Eating snacks can help to keep the blood sugar level up, resulting in better decision making.
If you make important decisions, make sure your brain is rested and fed enough. You should take regular short breaks and eat something to restore the glucose levels in your blood. Becoming ego-depleted from exertion without rest and fuel means you risk settling for the easy option rather than choosing the correct course of action.

Going to the gym may make you less likely to perform a favour.

Going to the gym may make you less likely to perform a favour.

Feelings of guilt are important drivers of prosocial behaviour. If we feel guilty about something, we are more likely to do a favour for someone else.
Ego depletion is a state in which our combined resource for emotional, physical and mental effort has been drained by exertion in one of those areas, and has not had time to recover.
If someone is in a state of ego depletion they are less able to feel guilty and are therefore less likely to participate in prosocial behaviour – that is, behaviour which helps other people or society in general. Therefore, if you have had a hard session in the gym you are likely to be ego-depleted and are therefore less likely to perform a favour for someone else.
Begue and Bushman tested this hypothesis by getting their participants to watch a horrible film, but half of them had to suppress their emotions (one way of producing a state of ego-depletion). All the participants then took part in a game in which they saw other people being punished for the participants’ errors. This was designed to induce feelings of guilt. Finally, the participants were given the opportunity to donate, anonymously, to a charity. The people who had been told to suppress their emotions felt less guilty than the others, and were less likely to donate to the charity.

A hard session at the gym decreases your ability to resist temptation.

A hard session at the gym decreases your ability to resist temptation.

Physical, emotional and mental effort all seem to draw from the same attentional resource. This pool of attention is limited and a period of effort in any of these forms runs down this resource. It’s exhaustion leaves us in a state known as ego-depletion. In this state we are less able to concentrate well at physical, emotional or mental tasks. We are also less able to exert will power when faced a tempting offer.
Baumeister et al conducted several experiments in which people had to make themselves eat radishes instead of chocolates, suppress their emotions or make difficult calculations and so on. They then had to perform another task requiring will power or concentration. The emotionally, mentally or physically tired people would perform the second task less well than those who had not had to do the first one. For example, if they had been thinking hard about a mathematics problem, they would then be more likely to choose a chocolate cake to eat than a salad.
The psychologists’ conclusion was that “the self’s capacity for active volition is limited and that a range of seemingly different, unrelated acts share a common resource.”
So, next time you come out of the gym after a hard session, beware of advertisements. You are far more likely to succumb to temptation than you were before you went in.

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