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Feeling guilty about lounging around and binge-watching shows like Mad Men and Grey’s Anatomy for hours at a time? Turns out that those marathon sessions may actually be a good thing—for your personality, at least.

Alexis Reliford
October 20, 2015

Feeling guilty about lounging around and binge-watching shows like Mad Men and Grey's Anatomy for hours at a time? Turns out that those marathon sessions may actually be a good thingfor your personality, at least.

A study published in the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts found that watching acclaimed television dramas can increase your emotional intelligence, and make you more empathetic.

Roughly 100 people were asked to watch either a television drama series (Mad Men or The West Wing) or a documentary-style show (How the Universe Works or Shark Week: Jaws Strikes Back) before taking a psychological test used by experts to measure emotional intelligence. The test involved looking at photos of different eyes and decoding the emotions behind each pair. The researchers repeated the experiment, only switching up the shows (The Good Wife or Lost versus Nova or Through the Wormhole) for good measure.

In the end, those who'd watched the fictionalized shows did better on this test than those who'd watched the nonfiction ones. Same was true for those who watched any shows before taking the test versus those who watched nothing beforehand.

What gives? The study authors say that fictional narratives may force the viewer to consider a problem from multiple perspectives. Since not every character's emotion is point-blank spelled out the audience has to do some creative mental work to fill in those gaps, making a guess at the inner lives and thoughts of the character in the process. In other words, when you watch a really engrossing, emotional show, you get practice at sympathizing with others.

Now, if only that made up for the effects of sitting still all that time. For that, the best advice might be to take a 10-minute walk in-between episodes or even do a few sets of push-ups to get you through the commercials. This way you'll be doing your mind and body good.

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