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Why is television so addictive? © Getty Images

Why is television so addictive?

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Watching television can be an attractive source of emotional and informational needs.

Asked by: Toby Graham, Shrewsbury

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The idea that technologies, like TV, can be considered truly addictive in the same way as substances like nicotine and alcohol is controversial. Nonetheless, many of us spend huge amounts of time watching TV and – if we are honest – often more than we would like.

Alongside the more obvious pulling power of cliffhangers and plot twists, TV’s main attraction comes from its ability to serve many of our most basic psychological needs on tap, and with little cost. It allows us to alter our emotions, to learn, to find out what’s happening in the world, and to enjoy long-running, so-called ‘para-social’, relationships with fictional characters, who can serve as substitute friends and relatives. And all this from the comfort of our sofas.

Are biscuits addictive? © Getty Images

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Authors

Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.

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