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Energized by Television: Familiar Fictional Worlds Restore Self-Control

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Energized by Television: Familiar Fictional Worlds Restore Self-Control

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Enacting effortful self-control depletes a finite resource, leaving less self-control available for subsequent effortful tasks. Positive social interaction can restore self-control, but hurtful or effortful social interaction depletes self-control. Given this conflict, people might seek an alternative to social interaction to restore self-control. The current research examines social surrogate restoration—the possibility that people seek a social surrogate when depleted, and that seeking social surrogacy restores selfcontrol. One experiment (Study 1) and one daily diary (Study 2) demonstrate that people seek familiar fictional worlds (e.g., a favorite television program) after exerting effortful self-control. Moreover, immersion in this familiar fictional world restores self-control. Supplementary analyses suggest that it is the social nature of this familiar fictional world that contributes to restoration.
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Energized by Television: Familiar Fictional
Worlds Restore Self-Control
Jaye L. Derrick
1
Abstract
Enacting effortful self-control depletes a finite resource, leaving less self-control available for subsequent effortful tasks. Positive
social interaction can restore self-control, but hurtful or effortful social interaction depletes self-control. Given this conflict,
people might seek an alternative to social interaction to restore self-control. The current research examines social surrogate
restoration—the possibility that people seek a social surrogate when depleted, and that seeking social surrogacy restores self-
control. One experiment (Study 1) and one daily diary (Study 2) demonstrate that people seek familiar fictional worlds (e.g., a
favorite television program) after exerting effortful self-control. Moreover, immersion in this familiar fictional world restores
self-control. Supplementary analyses suggest that it is the social nature of this familiar fictional world that contributes to
restoration.
Keywords
self-control, self-regulation, social surrogacy, parasocial, television
The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes
a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren
which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all,
so little.—Ray Bradbury, The Golden Apples of the Sun
As reflected in Ray Bradbury’s quote, many argue that television
disengages, numbs, or anesthetizes the mind, turning viewers
into mindless zombies. Such beliefs have led people to demonize
television, turning the act of watching the ‘‘idiot box’’ into a
guilty pleasure at best and the province of the unintelligent, lazy,
or weak willed at worst. Yet, research has demonstrated that tele-
vision use can lead to at least some positive outcomes, such as
fulfilling belongingness needs (Derrick, Gabriel, & Hugenberg,
2009). Perhaps people turn to television not to ‘‘zone out’’ or
escape, as is often believed, but to replenish resources lost doing
exhausting activities. The current research examines the possi-
bility that people seek favorite television programs and similar
fictional worlds after exerting self-control, and that reveling in
these familiar fictional worlds provides restoration.
According to the Self-Control Strength Model (Muraven &
Baumeister, 2000), completing an effortful task depletes a
finite resource, leaving people less able to exert self-control
on subsequent effortful tasks. For example, suppressing the
content of their thoughts leads people to give up sooner on a
frustrating puzzle (Muraven, Tice, & Baumeister, 1998).
Decrements in performance are only observed when the second
task is effortful; performance is not affected on tasks that do not
require self-control (e.g., Muraven, Shmueli, & Burkley, 2006;
Muraven & Slessareva, 2003). Self-control depletion affects
functioning in domains as varied as emotion regulation, atten-
tion maintenance, physical stamina, aggression, food consump-
tion, and alcohol use (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven, &
Tice, 1998; Dewall, Baumeister, Stillman, & Gailliot, 2007;
Muraven, Collins, Shiffman, & Paty, 2005; Muraven et al.,
1998).
Given the importance of self-control in so many domains, it
is likely that people seek to restore depleted self-control. One
method by which people may attempt to do so is through social
interaction. Thinking of close others who can be instrumental
in goal pursuit increases relationship commitment and close-
ness (Fitzsimons & Finkel, 2011; Fitzsimons & Fishbach,
2010), suggesting that people choose to associate with those
who facilitate self-control. Furthermore, close relationships can
be energizing (Stillman, Tice, Fincham, & Lambert, 2009),
particularly when secure (Luke, Sedikides, & Carnelley,
2012), indicating that social interaction can increase the
resources available for self-control. Indeed, when social inter-
action is interesting, mood enhancing, or self-affirming, it
should restore self-control (Schmeichel & Vohs, 2009; Tho-
man, Smith, & Silvia, 2011; Tice, Baumeister, Shmueli, &
1
Research Institute on Addictions, University at Buffalo, State University of
New York, NY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jaye L. Derrick, Research Institute on Addictions, University at Buffalo, SUNY,
1021 Main St., Buffalo, NY 14203, USA
Email: jderrick@ria.buffalo.edu
Social Psychological and
Personality Science
00(0) 1-9
ªThe Author(s) 2012
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Muraven, 2007). Therefore, after enacting effortful
self-control, people should experience increased motivation
to engage in social interaction (Schmeichel, Harmon-Jones,
& Harmon-Jones, 2010).
Yet, growing evidence indicates that social interaction is
also depleting. Rejection, exclusion, and ostracism deplete
self-control (Baumeister, DeWall, Ciarocco, & Twenge,
2005; Oaten, Williams, Jones, & Zadro, 2008). Within intimate
relationships, responding constructively during conflict and
inhibiting physical aggression both require effortful
self-control (Finkel & Campbell, 2001; Finkel, DeWall, Slot-
ter, Oaten, & Foshee, 2009). Even interactions that do not
require emotion regulation, but merely require increased atten-
tion, can deplete self-control (Dalton, Chartrand, & Finkel,
2010; Finkel et al., 2006; Muraven, 2008; Vohs, Baumeister,
& Ciarocco, 2005). After enacting effortful self-control, there-
fore, people might be motivated to avoid social interaction.
In summary, engaging in social interaction can restore self-
control, but it can also deplete self-control. Thus, people may
experience simultaneous motivations both to approach and to
avoid social interaction. Given this goal conflict, people
might seek an alternative to social interaction to restore
self-control.
People can be remarkably flexible when it comes to meeting
their needs. Previous research has shown that otherwise unful-
filled needs can often be met through social surrogacy: ‘‘Inter-
action’’ with nonhuman or fictional social targets.
1
When
‘real’’ social interaction is unavailable, people meet belong-
ingness needs through parasocial interaction with television
characters (Knowles & Gardner, 2011), immersion in favorite
television programs (Derrick et al., 2009), and transportation
into engaging literature (Green, 2005; Mar & Oatley, 2008).
Through assimilation to social surrogates, people high in
collective self-construal improve their life satisfaction and
mood (Gabriel & Young, 2011), low self-esteem people
decrease self-discrepancies (Derrick, Gabriel, & Tippin,
2008), and young women become more satisfied with their
bodies (Young, Gabriel, & Sechrist, in press).
Most types of social surrogacy are one sided, making
effortful interaction unlikely and the experience of rejection
rare (but see Cohen, 2004). Engaging in social surrogacy
should therefore be less depleting than true social interaction.
Moreover, social surrogates might restore self-control. Social
surrogates improve mood and decrease aggressive urges
(Lakey, Cooper, & Cronin, 2012; Twenge et al., 2007), two
types of regulation that require self-control (Dewall et al.,
2007; Muraven et al., 1998). Thus, social surrogacy might
be a ‘‘safe’’ method of seeking restoration.
The current research examines social surrogate restoration:
The possibility that immersion in a familiar fictional world
(e.g., a favorite television program) restores self-control. I
expected to find that people seek social surrogacy after exerting
self-control (Hypothesis 1) and exposure to social surrogacy
restores self-control (Hypothesis 2). These hypotheses were
examined in two studies using experimental and daily diary
methodology.
Study 1: Experimental Evidence
Participants in the current experiment underwent an adaptation
of the standard self-control depletion paradigm. As in hundreds
of studies conducted using this paradigm (e.g., Baumeister et
al., 1998; Muraven et al., 1998), half of the participants com-
pleted an effortful first task that involved regulating their beha-
vior. After this initial depletion manipulation, they completed
the restoration manipulation (i.e., the social surrogacy manipu-
lation). Half of the participants completed the social surrogacy
essay, and half completed a neutral listing task.
The social surrogate manipulation also served as the first
outcome variable. Exerting effortful self-control should
increase participants’ desire to think about and enjoy a favorite
television program (Hypothesis 1; Schmeichel et al., 2010). If
depleted participants write longer essays about their favorite
television program than nondepleted participants, it would sug-
gest that they were ‘‘seeking,’’ or at least spending more time
thinking about, their favorite television program (see Derrick
et al., 2009, Study 2). Importantly, this hypothesis is directly
opposite to what might typically be expected after depletion.
Writing a longer essay (in terms of word count) should be more
effortful, and thus, something that depleted participants would
avoid.
After completing the social surrogate manipulation, partici-
pants completed a second effortful task as a behavioral assess-
ment of their remaining self-control. Depleted participants who
had completed the neutral listing task should perform worse on
this task than nondepleted participants. Yet, thinking about a
favorite television program should eliminate this effect. In
other words, thinking about a favorite television program
should restore self-control (Hypothesis 2).
Method
Participants and Design
Participants were recruited online through Mechanical Turk
(https://www.mturk.com). MTurk allows ‘‘requesters’’ to post
tasks for ‘‘workers’’ to complete in exchange for monetary
compensation (see Buhrmester, Kwang, & Gosling, 2011).
Each worker received USD 0.50 in exchange for participation.
A total of 205 participants (71 male, 132 female, and 2 trans-
gender) completed the study. They averaged 33.31 (SD ¼
11.21) years of age. Most were White (81.5%;n¼166); the
remainder was predominantly Black (n¼9), Asian American
(n¼15), and Hispanic (n ¼9). The experiment employed a 2
(Self-Control: Regulated Writing vs. Free Writing) 2 (Social
Surrogacy: Television Essay vs. Neutral Listing) design.
Self-control manipulation. The self-control manipulation was
adapted from previous research on self-control depletion
(Schmeichel & Vohs, 2009). Participants in the free writing
condition described a recent trip. Participants in the regulated
writing condition also described a recent trip but were not per-
mitted to use the letters ‘‘a’’ or ‘‘i.’’ Participants in both condi-
tions were asked to write at least 10–12 sentences. Directly
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after the self-control manipulation, participants responded to
the manipulation checks, ‘‘How hard was it to complete the
essay?’’ and ‘‘How much effort do you feel you put into com-
pleting the essay?’’ on 7-point scales. The 2 items were averaged
to create a measure of effort (M¼4.50, SD ¼1.75, a¼.61).
Social surrogacy manipulation. Next, participants completed
the social surrogacy manipulation. Participants in the television
essay condition wrote about a favorite television program (see
Derrick et al., 2009). Participants in the neutral listing condi-
tion listed the items in their room. The social surrogacy essays
were also used to assess time spent thinking about the favorite
television program. The online version (http://www.liwc.net/
tryonline.php) of the software, Linguistic Inquiry and Word
Count (LIWC; Pennebaker, Booth, & Francis, 2007) was used
to assess the total word count of each essay (M¼77.82, SD ¼
59.08) and to code the content of the essays. LIWC provided
percentages of social words (M¼6.45, SD ¼6.36), positive
mood words (M¼3.20, SD ¼3.26), negative mood words
(M¼1.08, SD ¼1.58), and self-references (M¼4.66, SD ¼
4.17).
Behavioral outcome. Participants completed a 10-item easy
version of the Remote Associates Test as the primary outcome
measure (RAT; Lupien, Seery, & Almonte, 2012; McFarlin &
Blascovich, 1984). For each RAT stimulus item, participants
were given three words. They were asked to generate a fourth
word that was somehow related to the previous three. For
example, an item might consist of the words ‘sea,’’ ‘‘home,’
and ‘‘stomach.’’ The correct response would be ‘‘sick.’’ The
number of correct responses was summed (M¼5.99, SD ¼
2.69, a¼.79).
Negative mood. Negative mood was included as an additional
outcome measure because a recent meta-analysis concluded
that negative mood is a consistent (though modest) indicator
of self-control depletion (Hagger, Wood, Stiff, & Chatzisaran-
tis, 2010).
2
Participants rated the extent to which they felt each
of the three negative moods (angry, dejected, and sad) on a
scale from 1 (not at all)to7(completely). The responses were
averaged to create the negative mood composite (M¼2.46,
SD ¼2.33; a¼.85).
Pilot Experiment
Prior to fielding the full experiment, I conducted a pilot experi-
ment (n¼46). The procedures were identical except that there
was no social surrogacy manipulation. As expected, participants
in the regulated writing condition reported using greater effort,
t(44) ¼7.81, p<.001,d¼2.36, correctly completed fewer of
the word puzzles, t(44) ¼2.68, p¼.010, d¼0.81, and
reported greater negative mood, t(44) ¼2.47, p¼.018, d¼
0.74, than participants in the free writing condition.
Results and Discussion
Each outcome was submitted to a 2 (Self-Control: Regulated
Writing vs. Free Writing) 2 (Social Surrogacy: Television
Essay vs. Neutral Listing) analysis of variance (ANOVA). The
significance of simple effects was examined with pairwise
comparisons using the Sidak adjustment (a¼.05).
Manipulation Check
Did participants expend more effort in the regulated writing
condition than in the free writing condition? The main effect
for self-control was significant, F(1, 201) ¼327.87, p< .001,
Z
p
2
¼.62. As expected, regulated writers (M¼5.92, SE ¼
0.11) reported expending significantly more effort than free
writers (M¼3.17, SE ¼0.11). The social surrogacy manipula-
tion had not yet been administered, so the main effect for social
surrogacy, F(1, 201) ¼0.00, p>.99,Z
p
2
< .01, and the Self-
Control Social Surrogacy interaction, F(1, 201) ¼1.39,
p¼.24, Z
p
2
< .01, were not significant.
Social Surrogacy
Did depleted participants write more (and thus think longer)
about their favorite television program (Hypothesis 1)? Both
the main effect of self-control and the main effect of social sur-
rogacy were significant, F(1, 201) ¼22.25, p< .001, Z
p
2
¼.10,
and F(1, 201) ¼72.62, p< .001, Z
p
2
¼.27, respectively. As
expected, these main effects were qualified by a significant
Self-Control Social Surrogacy interaction, F(1, 201) ¼
32.87, p< .001, Z
p
2
¼.14. When they listed items in their
room, the essays of regulated writers (M¼47.12, SE ¼
6.61) and free writers (M¼53.78, SE ¼6.55) did not differ
in length.
3
When describing their favorite television program,
however, regulated writers (M¼140.53, SE ¼6.68) wrote sig-
nificantly longer essays than free writers (M¼72.06, SE ¼
6.36). In other words, depleted participants thought more than
nondepleted participants about a familiar fictional world (but
not about items in their apartment).
Restoration
Did thinking about a favorite television program restore self-
control (Hypothesis 2)? The main effect of self-control was
significant for both the number of correct RAT items,
F(1, 201) ¼5.81, p¼.02, Z
p
2
¼.10, and negative mood,
F(1, 201) ¼7.74, p<.01,Z
p
2
¼.04. The main effect of social
surrogacy was also significant for both the number of correct
RAT items, F(1, 201) ¼4.97, p¼.03, Z
p
2
¼.02, and negative
mood, F(1, 201) ¼5.15, p¼.02, Z
p
2
¼.03. As predicted, these
main effects were qualified by significant Self-Control
Social Surrogacy interactions, F(1, 201) ¼4.02, p< .05,
Z
p
2
¼.02 for correct RAT items, and F(1, 201) ¼4.23, p¼
.04, Z
p
2
¼.02 for negative mood. These interactions are
depicted in Figure 1 (correct RAT items) and Figure 2 (nega-
tive mood). When they listed items in their room, regulated
writers completed fewer RAT items correctly and reported
greater negative mood than free writers. As expected, these dif-
ferences were no longer significant when they described their
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favorite television program. Thinking about a familiar fictional
world restored self-control.
Mechanisms and Alternative Explanations
To determine whether seeking social surrogacy was the reason
depleted participants demonstrated an increase in self-control,
total word count on the social surrogacy essay was tested as
a mediator of the path from condition to each outcome variable.
Because an analysis of covariance can lead to biased estimates
when testing mediation in the context of two manipulated vari-
ables (Muller, Yzerbyt, & Judd, 2008), I used the INDIRECT
macro (http://www.afhayes.com) to test for mediation using a
resampling, or bootstrapping, methodology (see Preacher &
Hayes, 2008). Results of these analyses are presented in
Table 1. The total effect of the Self-Control Social Surrogacy
interaction was significant for both correct RAT items and neg-
ative mood (as described previously), but the direct effect was
no longer significant for either outcome. The indirect effect
through total word count to each outcome variable was
significant. In other words, seeking social surrogacy mediates
the restoration effect.
There are at least three possible explanations for the restora-
tive effect of thinking about a favorite television program.
First, as argued in the Introduction to this article, it may be the
case that social surrogacy provides supplemental social interac-
tion (e.g., Derrick et al., 2009). If so, regulated writers should
have used more social words (e.g., talk, they, child) than free
writers when describing their favorite television program.
Alternatively, it is possible that describing a television program
involving positive mood could have contributed to this restora-
tion (Lakey et al., 2012; Tice et al., 2007). That is, regulated
writers might have been more likely than free writers to think
of positive programming when prompted to describe their
favorite television program. If so, they should have used more
positive mood words or fewer negative mood words. Finally, it
is possible that thinking about a favorite television program
directs attention away from the self, decreasing self-focus and
potentially improving self-control (Moskalenko & Heine,
2003; Muraven, 2005). If this is the case, regulated writers
should have used fewer self-references (e.g., I, me, my) than
free writers.
To test these competing alternatives, four variables were
entered as potential mediators in the INDIRECT macro
(Preacher & Hayes, 2008). Specifically, social word use, posi-
tive mood word use, negative mood word use, and self-
reference use were included as multiple mediators. The direct
effect of the Self-Control Social Surrogacy interaction on
each outcome variable again fell to nonsignificance (see
Table 1). The bootstrapped indirect effect through social word
use was significant for both outcome variables. The boot-
strapped indirect effects through the other variables were not
significant. In other words, the restorative effect of thinking
about a favorite television program is due to its social nature
and not to positive programming or decreased self-focus.
Study 2: Daily Diary Evidence
The goal of Study 2 was to examine social surrogate restoration
in a real-world setting. To tap effortful self-control, I drew from
previous research demonstrating that people expend self-
control to regulate emotion and to control or suppress the con-
tent of their thoughts (Muraven et al., 1998). Participants also
reported on the use of a familiar fictional world (social surro-
gacy), a novel fictional world (similar interesting activities),
and whatever is on television (escapism). Finally, to tap self-
control outcomes, participants reported on negative mood (see
Study 1; see also Hagger et al., 2010).
Method
Participants
Eighty-six participants (42 male and 44 female) completed
the daily diary in exchange for course credit at a large univer-
sity in the northeastern United States. Participants averaged
18.73 (SD ¼0.96) years of age. Most participants (75.6%)
4.00
5.00
6.00
7.00
Neutral Listing Television Essay
Correct RAT Items
Social Surrogacy
Free Writers Regulated Writers
Figure 1. The number of correct RAT items as a function of
self-control and social surrogacy in Study 1. Error bars represent
standard errors. RAT ¼Remote Associates Test.
1.00
2.00
3.00
4.00
Neutral Listing Television Essay
Negative Mood
Social Surrogacy
Free Writers Regulated Writers
Figure 2. Negative mood as a function of self-control and social
surrogacy in Study 1. Error bars represent standard errors.
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were White (n ¼65); the remainder was predominantly Asian
American (n ¼7) and Hispanic (n ¼7).
Procedure
First, participants attended an orientation session. For the next
14 days, they completed a brief survey over the Internet each
night before going to bed. The survey included items related
to effortful self-control, fictional world use, and mood, among
other items not related to the current study (see Young, Gabriel,
& Derrick, 2012 with appropriate name and date throughout the
article.]). Participants provided demographic information dur-
ing the first report.
Self-control. Participants responded to the yes/no items:
‘I had to control my thoughts’’ and ‘‘I had to regulate my
mood’’ (Muraven et al., 2005). Either behavior should require
self-control, so a dichotomous effortful self-control variable
was created (0 ¼neither,1¼at least one). The intraclass
correlation coefficient (ICC) was .45.
Social surrogacy. Participants responded to yes/no items
regarding seeking familiar fictional worlds (‘‘I watched one of
my favorite movies’’; ‘‘I watched one of my favorite TV
showsa re-run’’; ‘‘I read one of my favorite booksNOT
including religious texts, class textbooks, or children’s books’’).
These items were used to create a dichotomous familiar fictional
world composite (0 ¼none,1¼at least one,ICC¼.38), reflect-
ing any exposure to a familiar fictional world.
Fun activities. To differentiate social surrogacy from other
interesting activities, participants responded to yes/no items
regarding seeking immersion in novel fictional worlds
(‘‘I watched a movie I’ve never seen before’’; ‘‘I watched one
of my favorite TV showsan episode I’ve never seen’’; ‘‘I read
a book I’ve never read beforeNOT including religious texts,
class textbooks, or children’s books’’). A dichotomous novel
fictional world composite was created (0 ¼none,1¼at least
one;ICC¼.24).
Escapism. To differentiate social surrogacy from mere escap-
ism, participants completed the item, ‘‘I watched TVjust
whatever show was on at the time.’’ They responded on a
yes/no basis (0 ¼no,1¼yes;ICC¼.49).
Negative mood. Participants rated the extent to which they
felt each of three negative moods (sad, nervous, and anxious)
on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree)to7(strongly agree).
Responses were averaged to create the negative mood compo-
site (a¼.75, M¼2.99, SD ¼1.40, ICC ¼.58).
Analysis
Specialized methods are required to account for the interdepen-
dence of measurement in daily diary data. In the current study,
two-level hierarchical (generalized) linear models with random
intercepts were estimated using the program HLM 7.0. Days
(Level 1) were nested within participants (Level 2). I used
uncentered dummy-coded predictors, a continuous sampling
distribution with an identity link for continuous outcomes, and
a Bernoulli sampling distribution with a logit link for dichoto-
mous outcomes. Time-lagged (and double-lagged) predictors
were used rather than contemporaneous predictors to demon-
strate temporal precedence.
Results and Discussion
Participants completed 1,044 (86.7%) out of a total possible
1,204 reports. They exerted effortful self-control on 387
(37.1%) reports. Additionally, they sought a familiar
fictional world on 349 (33.4%) reports, a novel fictional
world on 505 (48.4%) reports, and escapism on 424
(40.6%) reports. Results for the following analyses are
presentedinTable2.
Table 1. Results of Mediation Analyses for Study 1
Correct items on the RAT Negative Mood
bz 95% CI bz 95% CI
Total effect .36 2.00* [.01, .71] .20 2.11* [.01, .39]
Single mediator analysis, df ¼(4, 199)
Direct effect .14 0.74 [.23, .51] .13 1.25 [.07, .33]
Indirect effect—Word count .23 2.56** [.06, .44] .08 2.00* [.17, .01]
Multiple mediator analysis, df ¼(7, 196)
Direct effect .22 1.16 [.15, .59] .13 1.34 [.06, .33]
Indirect effect—Social words .12 2.00* [.02, .30] .06 2.00* [.16, .02]
Indirect effect—Positive mood words .00 0.00 [.03, .04] .00 0.00 [.04, .01]
Indirect effect—Negative mood words .00 0.00 [.05, .04] .00 0.00 [.05, .01]
Indirect effect—Self-references .01 0.62 [.01, .08] .01 0.62 [.01, .08]
Note. The main effects of self-control and social surrogacy were included as covariates in the model. The significance of the indirect effects was calculated based on
bootstrapped estimates of coefficients and standard errors. RAT ¼Remote Associates Test; 95% CI ¼95% confidence interval; total effect ¼the effect of the
predictor on the outcome; direct effect ¼the effect of the predictor on the outcome when controlling for the mediator/mediator s; indirect effect ¼the path
from the predictor through the mediator to the outcome.
*p< .05. **p< .01.
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Social surrogacy
Was exerting self-control on Day 1 associated with social sur-
rogate use on Day 2 (Hypothesis 1)? As expected, the associa-
tion between self-control and use of a familiar fictional world
was significant and positive (see Table 2). When participants
expended self-control to control their thoughts or regulate emo-
tions on one day, they sought greater immersion in a familiar
fictional world the next day. Self-control did not predict use
of a novel fictional world or watching whatever is on televi-
sion, however (see Table 2). After exerting effortful self-
control, people selectively seek social surrogacy.
4
Restoration
Does using social surrogacy restore self-control (Hypothesis
2)? Day 3 negative mood was predicted from a multiplicative
two-wayinteractionbetweenDay1Self-ControlandDay2
Familiar Fictional World Use. Analyses revealed the expected
interaction (see Table 2 and Figure 3). Among those who did
not seek a familiar fictional world, exerting self-control on Day
1 predicted greater negative mood on Day 3, b ¼.24, SE ¼.09,
p¼.012, d¼0.15. Replicating the neutral listing condition in
Study 1, using self-control was associated with greater negative
mood. However, among those who sought a familiar fictional
world, the association between self-control on Day 1 and neg-
ative mood on Day 3 was no longer significant, b ¼.15,
SE ¼.13, p¼.261, d¼0.07. Replicating the television essay
condition in Study 1, seeking social surrogacy restored partici-
pants’ depleted self-control.
General Discussion
The results of two studies using divergent methodology were
consistent with social surrogate restoration. Supporting
Hypothesis 1, participants were more likely to seek a familiar
fictional world after completing a regulated writing task (Study
1) and after controlling their thoughts or regulating their
emotion (Study 2). Supporting Hypothesis 2, seeking a familiar
fictional world in response to self-control depletion improved
performance on a difficult puzzle task (Study 1) and decreased
negative mood (Studies 1 and 2).
Supplementary analyses in Study 1 indicated that these
results are most likely due to the social nature of familiar fic-
tional worlds and not to positive programming or decreases
in self-focus. These results are unsurprising, given the strength
of social surrogates to enhance the experience of belongingness
(e.g., Derrick et al., 2009). Merely reliving past experiences of
belonging through cherished souvenirs (Gardner, Pickett, &
Knowles, 2005) or comfort food (Troisi & Gabriel, 2011)
enhances belongingness. Given that favorite television charac-
ters are experienced as ‘‘real’’ (Gardner & Knowles, 2008), the
social aspects of a favorite television program or movie might
be particularly salient.
Analyses in Study 2 demonstrated that people selectively
seek familiar fictional worlds, and not other, similar activities,
to restore self-control. These results replicate and extend previ-
ous research examining favorite television programs as social
surrogates (Derrick et al., 2009). Given that previous research
used a reliving essay to manipulate social surrogacy, the topic
of the essay would, by necessity, involve a familiar (rather than
novel) fictional world. Exploring such boundary conditions is
an important task for future research on social surrogacy.
Although Study 2 examined the effects of seeking social
surrogacy in an ecologically valid setting, the present studies
cannot speak to potential long-term effects. Seeking immersion
3.00
3.25
3.50
3.75
s
e
Y
o
N
Negative Mood on Day 3
Familiar Fictional World Use on Day 2
No Self-Control on Day 1
Effortful Self-Control on Day 1
Figure 3. Negative mood on Day 3 as a function of effortful
self-control on Day 1 and familiar fictional world use on Day 2. Error
bars represent standard errors.
Table 2. Results of Daily Diary Analyses in Study 2
Immersion in social surrogacy Restoration of resources
Familiar fictional world Novel fictional world Whatever is on TV Negative mood
Predictors bSEOR bSEOR bSEOR bSE d
Intercept 1.40 .19 0.25 .17 0.97 .23 2.82 .13
Lagged DV .98 .19 2.65*** .20 .16 1.22 .79 .21 2.20*** .14 .04 0.22
Day 1: Effortful self-control .44 .21 1.55* .16 .18 1.17 .11 .23 1.11 .24 .09 0.15
Day 2: Familiar fictional world .15 .10 0.09
Day 1 Day 2 .39 .15 0.16**
Note. OR ¼odds ratio; d¼Cohen’s d, an estimate of effect size; DV ¼dependent variable.
*p< .05. **p< .01. ***p< .001.
6Social Psychological and Personality Science 00(0)
at University at Buffalo Libraries on February 21, 2013spp.sagepub.comDownloaded from
in a familiar fictional world, rather than seeking ‘‘real’’ social
interaction, appears beneficialintheshortterm,butitmay
leave people with relatively fewer social resources over time.
Furthermore, previous research has demonstrated that regular
exercise can be energizing (e.g., Thayer, Peters, Takahashi,
& Birkheadflight, 1993). Seeking sedentary activities to restore
self-control, rather than physical exertion, could have deleter-
ious effects on long-term health.
Despite these limitations, the current research is impressive
for at least three reasons. First, although hundreds of studies
have examined self-control depletion, this article is among the
first to use a daily diary study and is one of only a handful (e.g.,
Schmeichel & Vohs, 2009; Thoman et al., 2011; Tice et al.,
2007) to demonstrate self-control restoration through cogni-
tive/behavioral, rather than physiological means. Second,
although other studies have shown that relationships increase
energy and the resources required for self-control (Luke et
al., 2012; Stillman et al., 2009), this is the first article to demon-
strate that (pseudo)relationships can in fact restore depleted
self-control (i.e., the other studies have not demonstrated a Sig-
nificant Depletion Relationship interaction). Finally, this
article is one of a growing number demonstrating that media
use can have unexpected psychological benefits. Television,
movies, and books can be more than mere leisure activities;
in some cases, they fulfill needs, like restoring self-control, that
people are reluctant or unable to fulfill through other means.
Rather than seeking television and other fictional media to
‘zone out’’ or escape, as is often believed, the current research
suggests that people seek familiar fictional worlds to become
rejuvenated.
Acknowledgments
The author wishes to thank Ariana F. Young, Shira Gabriel, and Jor-
dan D. Troisi for providing the daily diary data presented in Study 2.
Additionally, the author thanks Shira Gabriel, Matthew J. Perry, Lisa
R. Milford-Szafran, Maria Testa, and Ariana F. Young for comments
on a draft of this manuscript.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to
the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article.
Notes
1. One might argue that social surrogates are not fictional in reality tele-
vision programming, documentaries, biographies, or parasocial rela-
tionships with celebrities, but the eventsare not occurring in people’s
living rooms, and people are not actually friends with the celebrity.
2. Positive mood (happy, content, cheerful) was also assessed in both
studies. Consistent with the meta-analysis, I did not find any signif-
icant effects for positive mood in either study.
3. This null effect is unsurprising. The listing task should not be
restorative, so there is no reason to expect that depleted participants
would list more items than nondepleted participants. Additionally,
the neutral listing task was not effortful, so participants’ perfor-
mance should not have been impaired (e.g., Muraven et al.,
2006; Muraven & Slessareva, 2003).
4. Cross-day (rather than same-day) analyses were chosen for metho-
dological (i.e., demonstrating temporal precedence) and for con-
ceptual reasons. Days when college students have to exert self-
control are likely days when stressful events are happening (e.g.,
studying for an exam; fighting with one’s partner). Accordingly,
participants may not have time to engage in leisure activities on
such days. Rather, they may turn to leisure activities for recupera-
tion the following day (e.g., after the exam is finished; after they
have made up with their partner).
Supplementary analyses revealed that days when participants exerted
self-control were also days when they experienced negative interac-
tions with partners, friends, and family and received negative feed-
back at school. In additional analyses, exerting self-control did not
predict use of a familiar fictional world on the same day, z¼0.40,
p¼.69; same-dayanalyses also were not significant (and were in the
opposite direction) for novelfictional worlds, z¼1. 14, p¼.26, and
for escapism z¼0.19, p¼.85. It appears that participants do not
enact leisureactivities on days requiring self-control; rather, they seek
recuperation the next day.
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Bio
Jaye L. Derrick is a research scientist at the Research Institute on
Addictions. Her research focuses on close relationships (including
parasocial relationships), well-being, and health.
Derrick 9
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Fiction literature has largely been ignored by psychology researchers because its only function seems to be entertainment, with no connection to empirical validity. We argue that literary narratives have a more important purpose. They offer models or simulations of the social world via abstraction, simplification, and compression. Narrative fiction also creates a deep and immersive simulative experience of social interactions for readers. This simulation facilitates the communication and understanding of social information and makes it more compelling, achieving a form of learning through experience. Engaging in the simulative experiences of fiction literature can facilitate the understanding of others who are different from ourselves and can augment our capacity for empathy and social inference. © 2008 Association for Psychological Science.
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