The Washington Post

Guilt of the couch potato

After a long day at the office, many people want to kick up their feet and turn on the TV, but new research suggests feelings of guilt over wasted time and procrastination can prevent some from benefiting from a well-deserved break.

A new study published Thursday in the Journal of Communication found that ego-depletion — the feeling of being drained after work -- inhibits our self-control and makes us more likely to watch TV or play video games rather than completing other goals.

“You can think of self-control as a sort of a muscle, which is exerted every time you use willpower over the day,” said Leonard Reinecke, assistant professor at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz’s Department of Communication in Germany and lead author of the study. “When we come home from work, people tend to be in a state where it is difficult to control desires.”

The study was conducted through an online survey analyzing data from 471 respondents, recruited on a popular German gaming Web site as well as through classes at universities in Germany and Switzerland. The requirements were that participants had worked the day before and then used entertainment media when they came home, with 262 of them playing video games and 209 watching TV.

Respondents were asked to rate on a scale how depleted they felt after work and to what extent they used media as a form of procrastination. They were then asked to rate their feelings of guilt about using media and their sense of enjoyment or vitality after.

The study found that people who felt most drained at the end of the work day were most likely to put off other tasks in favor of the TV or video games, but got less benefit from them because they felt guilty about procrastinating.

“These patterns clearly demonstrate that depleted individuals had a significantly higher risk of interpreting their media use as a form of procrastination and, as a result, to feel guilty about it. Feelings of guilt, in turn, were negatively related to the beneficial outcomes of media use,” said Reinecke.

A previous experiment that Reinecke conducted in lab settings found that participants who viewed entertainment media after being asked to perform work tasks not only felt they had recovered more but felt more “vital.”

But the new study shows that in real life, complex feelings of guilt can prevent those most in need of recovery from reaping the rewards.

Reinecke suggests that the reasons for this could be twofold — individual guilt about procrastination and concerns that other people would look down on low-brow entertainment.

“If you watch a comedy or a sitcom people might interpret this as more of a waste of time or more of a guilty pleasure, as opposed to content that makes you think about your purpose in life or provide you with learning experiences,” Reinecke said.



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Kiratiana Freelon · July 23, 2014

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