Research shows mindless eating associated with complex TV plots

Researchers have proved what has long been suspected by couch potatoes: the more engaging the TV show, the more calories are consumed while watching. 

In a randomized trial of 120 young adults aged 18-35, researchers found that something called “narrative transportation” — or total immersion in a story — increases snacking during screen time.

Elizabeth J. Lyons, an assistant professor in the Institute for Translational Sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch and the study’s lead author, says that complex plots and layered characters — think “Dexter” rather than “How I Met Your Mother” — contribute to mindless eating. This is likely due to distraction from hunger cues. 

“To follow along with a complicated storyline, you have to concentrate a lot more than you would watching something simple,” says Lyons. That can lead to losing track of how much you’ve consumed.

Watch a short video of Dr. Lyons here

The study, which currently appears in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, found that males were slightly more affected by narrative transformation than females. This is the first study to reveal the type of programs you watch can make a difference when it comes to your eating.

Other authors include Deborah F. Tate and Dianne S Ward of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.