Binge-watching TV together is good for your relationship, say studies

Surprisingly, this study was not funded by HBO, Netflix, Hulu or the Illuminati. 

Characters in TV shows, films and books can feel so real. We cry for them when times are bad, we laugh when they make jokes – then look over our shoulders to check no one saw us. Or, if you're watching with your partner, you'll grasp their arm, look at one another with slack jaws, and excitedly discuss as the credits roll.


Burning through hours of bandwidth watching Game of Thrones or Narcos might seem like time that could be spent more productively, but when you're watching it beside the one you love, turns out science gives it the all clear. You're creating a "shared social reality", according to a new study from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland (pdf file).

The psychology researchers found that there are measurable benefits to consuming media like films and books with your partner, especially if the two of you don't have a mutual group of friends, are in a long-distance relationship, or don't have much family. The researchers studied 259 students who had been in committed relationships for 16.7 months on average, and they controlled for the time couples spent together to make sure it was in fact the media, and not general time spent together, that produced the enhanced feelings of closeness. The couples who either had shared friends, or had fewer common friends but shared media consumption, reported the highest relationship satisfaction for the duration of the study.

In a different study, couples that share more friends reported greater satisfaction, commitment, intimacy, and optimism about their relationship's future than couples who share fewer friends, so if two people somehow feel they are lacking common social connections the air in the room might get filled with awkward static. Fortunately, we humans are extremely resourceful. When deprived of our psychological needs, we'll find creative ways to meet them. We look at photos when we miss someone. We get pets for companionship. We read books, which psychologically embeds the reader into whatever community is described in the narrative, satisfying a deep human need for belonging to the point that a 2011 study showed that after reading Harry Potter, participants imbued their identity with wizard traits. In extreme isolation, some of us take up with a soccer ball called Wilson.

What this University of Aberdeen study has found is that fictional characters act as social surrogates. "When people lack a shared circle of friends with their partners, sharing media like TV shows, books, and movies with partners may compensate for this deficit and restore closeness," the study reports.

Figure 1. Predicted relationship quality scores for the shared friends by shared media interaction in Study 1. Scores on the Y-axis are predicted values for the composite of standardized measures of partner centrality, own and partner closeness, and own and partner commitment.

The authors also reference research conducted in 2013 on the prevention of marital distress and dissolution, which showed that when couples watched and discussed relationship-themed movies it was equally effective as skills-based counseling interventions in preventing relationship dissolution over three years.

To unlock a bonus level of relationship closeness with your partner, there's evidence to suggest you should browse the thriller, horror and action genres. That's right, you want to feel the fear – purely so you can misattribute it.

A research paper on the effects of adrenaline on arousal and attraction from McKendree University indicates that when someone's emotional arousal (this is arousal outside of the sexual context, think a literal increase of emotional state marked by things like a racing heart and sweaty palms) is increased, their system is flooded with adrenaline, which increases the likelihood and amount of attraction between two people. A creative study by Dutton and Aron involving exchanging phone numbers after crossing a shaky bridge supports it, and it's also why some avant-garde relationship counsellors will suggest couples go sky-diving together as therapy.

So you can grow closer to your partner by sharing the experience of characters in tense dramas, comedies and love stories, but as neuroscientist Joseph Ledoux says, "Things that are bad have more weight than things that are good." Watching a character on Game of Thrones get his eyes gouged until his head pops, for example, should do it. As will watching Barb get shunned by her best friend then dragged to the 'upside down' by a monster in Stranger Things. Oh Barb, romantically fortified couples all over the world thank you.


3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
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A map of America’s most famous – and infamous

The 'People Map of the United States' zooms in on America's obsession with celebrity

Image: The Pudding
Strange Maps
  • Replace city names with those of their most famous residents
  • And you get a peculiar map of America's obsession with celebrity
  • If you seek fame, become an actor, musician or athlete rather than a politician, entrepreneur or scientist

Chicagoland is Obamaland

Image: The Pudding

Chicagoland's celebrity constellation: dominated by Barack, but with plenty of room for the Belushis, Brandos and Capones of this world.

Seen from among the satellites, this map of the United States is populated by a remarkably diverse bunch of athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and other persons of repute (and disrepute).

The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast. Right down the middle, we find actors Chris Pratt and Jason Momoa, singer Elvis Presley and basketball player Shaquille O'Neal. The East Coast crew include wrestler John Cena, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, mass murderer Ted Bundy… and Dwayne Johnson, again.

The Rock pops up in both Hayward, CA and Southwest Ranches, FL, but he's not the only one to appear twice on the map. Wild West legend Wyatt Earp makes an appearance in both Deadwood, SD and Dodge City, KS.

How is that? This 'People's Map of the United States' replaces the names of cities with those of "their most Wikipedia'ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place."

‘Cincinnati, Birthplace of Charles Manson'

Image: The Pudding

Keys to the city, or lock 'em up and throw away the key? A city's most famous sons and daughters of a city aren't always the most favoured ones.

That definition allows people to appear in more than one locality. Dwayne Johnson was born in Hayward, has one of his houses in Southwest Ranches, and is famous enough to be the 'most Wikipedia'ed resident' for both localities.

Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, IL, but his reputation is closely associated with both Deadwood and Dodge City – although he's most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, AZ. And yes, if you zoom in on that town in southern Arizona, there's Mr Earp again.

The data for this map was collected via the Wikipedia API (application programming interface) from the English-language Wikipedia for the period from July 2015 to May 2019.

The thousands of 'Notable People' sections in Wikipedia entries for cities and other places in the U.S. were scrubbed for the person with the most pageviews. No distinction was made between places of birth, residence or death. As the developers note, "people can 'be from' multiple places".

Pageviews are an impartial indicator of interest – it doesn't matter whether your claim to fame is horrific or honorific. As a result, this map provides a non-judgmental overview of America's obsession with celebrity.

Royals and (other) mortals

Image: The Pudding

There's also a UK version of the People Map – filled with last names like Neeson, Sheeran, Darwin and Churchill – and a few first names of monarchs.

Celebrity, it is often argued, is our age's version of the Greek pantheon, populated by dozens of major gods and thousands of minor ones, each an example of behaviours to emulate or avoid. This constellation of stars, famous and infamous, is more than a map of names. It's a window into America's soul.

But don't let that put you off. Zooming in on the map is entertaining enough: celebrities floating around in the ether are suddenly tied down to a pedestrian level, and to real geography. And it's fun to see the famous and the infamous rub shoulders, as it were.

Barack Obama owns Chicago, but the suburbs to the west of the city are dotted with a panoply of personalities, ranging from the criminal (Al Capone, Cicero) and the musical (John Prine, Maywood) to figures literary (Jonathan Franzen, Western Springs) and painterly (Ivan Albright, Warrenville), actorial (Harrison Ford, Park Ridge) and political (Eugene V. Debs, Elmhurst).

Freaks and angels

Image: Dorothy

The People Map of the U.S. was inspired by the U.S.A. Song Map, substituting song titles for place names.

It would be interesting to compare 'the most Wikipedia'ed' sons and daughters of America's cities with the ones advertised at the city limits. When you're entering Aberdeen, WA, a sign invites you to 'come as you are', in homage to its most famous son, Kurt Cobain. It's a safe bet that Indian Hill, OH will make sure you know Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, was one of theirs. But it's highly unlikely that Cincinnati, a bit further south, will make any noise about Charles Manson, local boy done bad.

Inevitably, the map also reveals some bitterly ironic neighbours, such as Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, captured near Oroville, CA. He died in 1916 as "the last wild Indian in North America". The most 'pageviewed' resident of nearby Colusa, CA is Byron de la Beckwith, Jr., the white supremacist convicted for the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.

As a sampling of America's interests, this map teaches that those aiming for fame would do better to become actors, musicians or athletes rather than politicians, entrepreneurs or scientists. But also that celebrity is not limited to the big city lights of LA or New York. Even in deepest Dakota or flattest Kansas, the footlights of fame will find you. Whether that's good or bad? The pageviews don't judge...

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Image: Abel Suyok
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