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Financial crisis? Stick the idiot's lantern on

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The University of Maryland has concluded that "unhappy people watch more TV", while those who reckon they're "very happy" tend to pass the time reading or socializing.

That's the conclusion of a study of "time use studies" and a "continuing series of social attitude surveys" spanning 30 years and encompassing the habits of 30,000 US adults. Financial crises appear to be a key factor in increased hours glued to the idiot's lantern, as people have more time on their hands to sink into the couch with the remote control.

The researchers asked their subjects to "fill out diaries for a 24-hour period and to indicate how pleasurable they found each activity". This data was perused in parallel with "General Social Survey attitude studies", described as "the premier national source for monitoring changes in public attitudes".

The upshot is that saddos watch 20 per cent more television than very happy people, "after taking into account their education, income, age and marital status - as well as other demographic predictors of both viewing and happiness".

Maryland uni sociologist Steven Martin explained: "Through good and bad economic times, our diary studies have consistently found that work is the major activity correlate of higher TV viewing hours."

This conclusion is backed by the General Social Survey, which shows that "unhappy people watched significantly more television in their spare time" while "self-described very happy people were more socially active, attended more religious services, voted more and read more newspapers".

The lure of TV is, of course, that's it's "easy", because viewers "don't have to go anywhere, dress up, find company, plan ahead, expend energy, do any work or spend money in order to view". The researchers elaborate: "Combine these advantages with the immediate gratification offered by television, and you can understand why Americans spend more than half their free time as TV viewers."

However, while TV is good for a quick fix, it "doesn't really seem to satisfy people over the long haul the way that social involvement or reading a newspaper does". Nonetheless, the researchers did find that unhappy people are "happier" with TV than happy people, if that makes sense.

Martin concluded: "Addictive activities produce momentary pleasure and long-term misery and regret. People most vulnerable to addiction tend to be socially or personally disadvantaged. For this kind of person, TV can become a kind of opiate in a way. It's habitual, and tuning in can be an easy way of tuning out."

The University of Maryland study is published in the journal Social Indicators Research. There are further details here. ®

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