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Self-Control and Need Satisfaction in Primetime: Television, Social Media, and Friends

Spending time watching TV, hanging out with friends or scrolling through social media can be viewed as a waste of time and energy. But what if the use of this leisure time actually helps improve self-control (e.g. capacity to self-regulate behavior) and can satisfy intrinsic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness)?

Since so many individuals use media and leisure activities to meet these needs, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Advertising Assistant Professor Benjamin Johnson and fellow researchers wanted to know if these activities are actually helping people meet their needs and increasing their self-control. The study explores the self-determination theory, a theory that proposes one can satisfy intrinsic psychological needs through engaging in leisure time.

Video games, social media, TV and other activities have been linked to independence, relatedness, autonomy, feelings of mastery and satisfying social relationship needs. However, social media can also be linked to feelings of anxiety, social pressure, fear of missing out, etc. and if one believes that TV and video games “rot your brain,” then users will not experience the benefits of these mental breaks. This study establishes that it’s all about perception.

Study subjects rated their levels of self-control earlier in the evening versus late at night, reported for which activities they were engaging (e.g. socializing, playing sports/games, using social media, watching TV) and then rated their resulting self-control capacity.

In general, the researchers found that study respondents saw increases in perception of relatedness, autonomy and competence if they already had a high rating of self-control. High levels of self-control at the beginning of the evening continued into late evening if they perceived satisfaction while engaging in their activities.

If someone’s self-control is already depleted, however, media use may not increase their self-control. In fact, it may actually hurt their quest for meeting their intrinsic needs, because when self-control is low, they are not going to engage in more “challenging” types of media use.  They will head to whatever will provide an escape.

This research can help individuals feel that they are spending their leisure time wisely, employers to feel confident that their employees need time away to relax and unwind, and parents to feel that their children’s use of media can actually assist in their growth and development, rather than cause a hindrance.

The researchers conclude that there are positive correlations between engaging in leisure activities to increase autonomy, relatedness, competence and self-control capacity if the subject positively perceives these activities and their self-control is not already depleted. It will be each individual’s task to explore which activities lead to self-fulfillment, to remove negative thoughts of engaging in leisure time and to examine their relationship with self-control and these activities.

The original article,Self-Control and Need Satisfaction in Primetime: Television, Social Media, and Friends Can Enhance Regulatory Resources Via Perceived Autonomy and Competence,” was published online in Psychology of Popular Media on April 6, 2020.

Authors: Benjamin K. Johnson, Aliison Eden, Leonard Reinecke and Tito Hartman.

This summary was written by Alexandra Avelino, UFCJC M.A.M.C. 2020, Student Affairs Program Coordinator at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine.


Posted: April 27, 2020
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