Why am I rewatching the same TV show again?

In this month’s Research Reflections blog, Research Ambassador and Young Mental Health Ambassador Gemma Wood draws on a fascinating body of research to explore why people living with anxiety like to rewatch TV shows and reread books.

Do you find yourself always gravitating to the same book or turning on the same TV show? Because I certainly do. I re-read the same lighthearted romance books and constantly have the same series on repeat. I refer to these as my ‘comfort’ books and shows but as a psychology student my brain is always questioning everything. How do these provide me with so much comfort, is it because I have anxiety and just…why?

I think everyone can relate to the feeling of warmth (I’d call these fuzzy feelings!) when you see someone you know, are in a familiar place or do something you’ve done many times before. That warm, happy feeling then reinforces the desire to repeat the action. The positive feelings occur because of the mere-exposure effect. This is a psychological phenomenon which suggests that repeated exposure to a stimulus increases perceptual fluency. This means the ease with which a stimulus can be processed. In other words, it means developing a liking to something just because you’re familiar with it (Bornstein & D’agostino, 1992; Burgess II & Sales, 1971). It can also be referred to as the familiarity principle.

This is why individuals find comfort in the familiarity of watching their favourite TV show that they’ve seen perhaps 100 times before, whereas watching something new could bring up feelings of distress or unease, especially when it’s suspenseful. So even though that TV show might be a bit terrible, you may still choose the comforting option over the best option as the most effective course of action is unfamiliar to us.

Watching the same show repeatedly increases your perceptual fluency (Nessler, Mecklinger & Penney, 2005). This means the brain processes it easier than it would if it was something new. It’s lighting up the same neuropathways over and over again, priming them for activation.

Anxious people tend to have a heavier cognitive load. This is the amount of stress we put on our working memory (Chen & Chang, 2009). For me this is overthinking, navigating change, making lots of decisions and generally feeling like I have too many tabs open in my brain.  Humans’ working memory, our cognitive systems that hold information, is a limited resource and there’s a point when it can’t deal with it anymore. When our brains have reached capacity, watching the same TV show means there’s no additional load added onto our mental plates. When you feel mentally exhausted, watching that comfort show can re-energize you and restore those feelings of self-control (Derrick, 2013). Therefore, watching the same show is simply less effort for our brains. In a way, it’s a form of taking a break from making decisions but you still get to regain self-control and get the warm fuzzy feeling!

People with anxiety, myself included, can have a strong need for control. In my daily life, I’m often overwhelmed by millions of things that are out of my control and my brain feels flooded with so many different things. The familiar narratives and characters provide some respite from the anxious mindset. You get immersed in a world where you know precisely what will happen and can ensure there’s no unexpected twists or new events. It becomes a form of emotional regulation because it is a way of managing your anxiety by temporarily retreating into the comfort of the known. However, research has discovered potentially problematic characteristics of binge-watching behaviours driven by the need for control (Starosta et al., 2021). It’s a fascinating area to read about!

Do you have a favourite character in a film or tv series that you feel like you know so well that they’re almost like your best friend and make you feel a real sense of connection?

Humans’ social lives aren’t just limited to in-person relationships. We also have narratives and parasocial relationships. These are one-sided attachments to people we don’t know. They don’t even have to be real people and can be fictional characters. Rewatching a show with your favourite character gives you that fuzzy feeling of being in the company of someone you like (Rain & Mar, 2021).

The ability to feel this sense of comfort and community from these fictional characters can be referred to as ‘social snacking’. This is because they’re quick interactions that fulfil our social need (Gardner, Pickett & Knowles, 2013). In no way is this a substitute for human interaction, but it can give you that immediate boost if you’re feeling down. For me, this may be the cast of The Big Bang Theory, in particular Penny and Raj!

So, if you’ve just started rewatching your preferred series or reading your favourite book again, maybe consider if you’re searching for that fuzzy feeling. Are you trying to mentally relax or seeking some comfort after a tough day? If so, then you’ve found the perfect way, enjoy!

Gemma Wood, Research Ambassador

Photo of Gemma Wood

Gemma Wood, ambassador


About the author

Gemma Wood is a final year undergraduate psychology student studying online and aiming to undertake a Masters of Science next year. She’s passionate about academic research, with interests in adolescent/young adult mental health, educational psychology, and pedagogy. She’s been a Young Mental Health Ambassador with Healthwatch Essex for several years and recently joined our Research Ambassador Network. You can find Gemma on X here: @GemmaWood00.






Bornstein, R. F., & Craver-Lemley, C. (2017). Mere exposure effect. In R. F. Pohl (Ed.), Cognitive illusions: Intriguing phenomena in thinking, judgment and memory  256–275

Burgess II, T. D., & Sales, S. M. (1971). Attitudinal effects of “mere exposure”: A reevaluation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7(4), 461-472.

Bornstein, R. F., & D’agostino, P. R. (1992). Stimulus recognition and the mere exposure effect. Journal of personality and social psychology63(4), 545.

Nessler, D., Mecklinger, A., & Penney, T. B. (2005). Perceptual fluency, semantic familiarity and recognition-related familiarity: an electrophysiological exploration. Cognitive Brain Research22(2), 265-288.

Chen, I., & Chang, C. C. (2009). Cognitive load theory: An empirical study of anxiety and task performance in language learning.

Gardner, W. L., Pickett, C. L., & Knowles, M. (2013). Social snacking and shielding: Using social symbols, selves, and surrogates in the service of belonging needs. In The social outcast (pp. 227-241). Psychology Press.

Rain, M., & Mar, R. A. (2021). Adult attachment and engagement with fictional characters. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships38(9), 2792-2813.

Derrick, J. L. (2013). Energized by Television: Familiar Fictional Worlds Restore Self-Control. Social Psychological and Personality Science4(3), 299-307.

Starosta, J., Izydorczyk, B., Sitnik-Warchulska, K., & Lizińczyk, S. (2021). Impulsivity and difficulties in emotional regulation as predictors of binge-watching behaviours. Frontiers in Psychiatry12, 743870.