The Psychology Behind Rewatching

September 26, 2022
Niall Peers 0
News

Many of us like to rewatch films and TV. Whether it’s sticking a classic movie on for the fifth time this year, restarting our favourite series the moment it finishes, or always going to sleep watching the same season of a show, there are a variety of reasons why we like to watch something familiar.

With a recent study by Sykes confirming that between 2020 and 2022 over 75% of respondents rewatched their favourite shows, it’s clear that the majority of people find comfort and pleasure from watching something they’ve seen before. But why do we like to rewatch shows? And why do we seem to be rewatching more frequently, despite having more new shows and films to watch than ever before? 

Read on to discover everything there is to know about the psychology of rewatching.

Why do we rewatch movies and TV? The science behind it

Coined by researchers Cristel Antonia Russell and Sidney J. Levy, volitional reconsumption is a term used to describe ‘experiences that consumers actively and consciously seek to experience again’ and can explain the act of rewatching. In their research, Russell and Levy state that by rewatching certain media, viewers gain “deeper insights” into both the content itself, and an increased understanding of themselves. This explains that even though we may be viewing something we have previously experienced, we could be picking up on things that we missed the first time around, and by viewing it at a different point in our lives, also learning more about ourselves.

Researcher Jaye L. Derrick from the Department of Psychology at the University of Houston argues in “Energized by Television: Familiar Fictional Worlds Restore Self-Control” that another reason we rewatch is that when our emotional resources are depleted after “enacting effortful self-control” or experiencing a difficult social situation, we may seek “an alternative to social interaction to restore self-control”. People are likely to find this alternative to social interaction in the form of ‘familiar fictional worlds’, explaining why we are likely to use TV and film as a form of escapism following difficult or upsetting conversations or social interactions. This could be from wanting a comforting human interaction without having to directly be a part of the interaction itself.

Speaking directly to Derrick, she told us that during the pandemic people were likely to have increased their rewatching, as viewing our favourite shows can “improve feelings of social connection”. Although rewatching familiar series can help to improve our mood, and make us feel socially connected, Derrick was keen to emphasise that they do not replace real life relationships, and are in fact complementary to them. This was emphasised by her view that chronically lonely people do not get these benefits from rewatching TV.

Does anxiety encourage rewatching?

Although it is often believed that people with anxiety disorders may be more likely to rewatch, Jaye L. Derrick argues that everyone rewatches to a certain extent, and it is behaviour all of us exhibit. Be it “rereading books or eating food that reminds us of family members” we all reconsume, and it is completely normative behaviour.

Despite this, Psychologist Pamela Rutledge in Medium states that rewatching “can create a sense of safety and comfort on a primal level.” This suggests that viewing something familiar can in fact soothe feelings of anxiety. From this, we can theorise that although people with an anxiety condition are not necessarily more likely to rewatch, people generally may be more likely to rewatch something when they are feeling anxious.

Why more people are rewatching

While the phenomenon may seem fairly recent, people have been reconsuming content for many years, with people rereading books and revisiting their favourite artwork for decades. A recent study by The Reading Agency found that over one third of people find happiness from rereading a book as it gives them comfort, relaxation and escapism, and that among certain demographics sci-fi and fantasy are the top reread genres, showing that fantasy really is a genre for escapists

Despite people having rewatched and reread for many years , there is evidence that rewatching figures are rising. The Office (U.S) being the most streamed show of 2020 is a good indicator of this, as the show’s final episode aired in 2013. With the series bearing so much cultural significance, it is likely that the 57 billion minutes Americans collectively streamed of the show in 2020 alone was done mostly through people rewatching.

It is no coincidence that rewatching seems to have increased during and following the coronavirus pandemic. Following a difficult two years for much of the world, and much of the news around the globe continuing to be rather bleak, it is no surprise that statistically we appear to be rewatching more and more. Through a period of unknown and uncertainty, people appear to have found comfort and distraction in what they know. 

Speaking again to Jaye L. Derrick, she states that it is likely the missing out on close social interaction with our friends and relatives during the pandemic, combined with the energy used from regulating mood, due to pandemic worries, that may have pushed us to rewatch more TV. People in this situation may also have less energy for other pursuits and therefore find it easier to rewatch something than watch something new, or partake in another activity entirely.

With the rise in the rewatching phenomenon, many stars and production staff of popular shows have also taken advantage, and created rewatch podcasts. This new genre of podcast has stoked and compounded the rewatching trend itself. With The Office, The Sopranos, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia among many popular series having podcasts that encourage fans to rewatch the episodes, it looks as though the trend may be here to stay for a while.

Best TV to rewatch

The Office (U.S)

We can’t argue with the numbers, the best thing to rewatch according to the statistics is The Office (U.S). Currently available on Netflix, this iconic show contains all of the ingredients in the perfect quantities for a show with immense longevity and rewatchability. An incredible cast, consistently strong seasons throughout its nine series’ and character arcs that make viewers genuinely invested in the show help keep viewers coming back for more. This, combined with the fact the humour strikes just the right tone, it is set in a relatable setting, and there are enough episodes that viewers will always catch something new, makes this show the ultimate rewatch.

Friends

Another comforting series also available on Netflix, Friends will take many viewers back to a time when life seemed simpler, with nostalgia doing a lot of the heavy lifting in making it one of the most popular shows to rewatch. The relatively normal lives of the six working professionals Friends follows make the show relatively relatable, and helps make this a series people frequently find themselves coming back to.

Peep Show

This British classic has become a cultural phenomenon and has prompted countless repeat viewings from their devoted fanbase. Despite the unique but slightly jarring point of view filming style adopted by the show, Peep Show is a definitive cult classic with iconic lines and something new to pick up on with each watch. Aided by countless meme pages injecting new life into the series, Peep Show seems to be one of the most consistently watched shows of a generation.

Best movies to rewatch

Step Brothers

With people frequently rewatching for familiarity and comfort, it makes sense that the best films to rewatch are lighthearted comedies. Step Brothers, available on Amazon Prime, fits this description perfectly, with the storyline guaranteed to bring laughs to anyone who’s watching. Following two step brothers as they go from mutual contempt to becoming best friends, the story has a familiar but rewarding storyline that warrants multiple viewings.

Shaun of the Dead

Dubbed a zombie romcom, Shaun of the Dead is a classic British film that is not only rewatched around Halloween, but year round. Tapping into classic British tropes such as always going to the same pub and knowing the local corner shop all too well, it’s a favourite among Brits of all ages. Multiple viewings will reveal hidden pop culture references and have fans looking out for hints to other films in the ‘cornetto trilogy’.

Pulp Fiction

Despite not fitting with the theme of lighthearted comedies, Pulp Fiction has for many people been a go-to repeat viewing for years. Despite the often gory and graphic themes, Quentin Tarantino is known for not taking his films too seriously, and the comic relief helps to cement this film as something that can be watched on virtually any occasion. The entangled storyline also helps to keep the film interesting, with different ways the characters are interconnected becoming apparent to the viewer on each viewing. You can relive the action of Pulp Fiction on both Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Fight Club

Another film that bucks the trend of lighthearted comedies, but one that many people seem to revisit frequently. Fight Club is a brilliantly made film with an interesting plot, that makes multiple watches continually enjoyable. Due to the complex storytelling, often viewers will discover more about the characters, and discover easter eggs and clues on their second and third viewings. 

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