Television has evolved into a rather sophisticated creature. Not only can you watch what you want, when you want, as much as you want, but there’s a veritable feast of programming at your fingertips. In the past, you might have commented on a particular program that was ‘good TV’ but these days television has kicked things up a notch. TV has moved from, as Jim Collins would say, from good to great.

The news for those who have the time and inclination is that watching high-quality television dramas (such as ‘Mad Men’ and ‘The West Wing’) can increase your emotional intelligence. Well, according to a new study, and depending how you look at it.

Melissa Dahl presents the findings, with a grain of salt, on New York magazine. Study participants were asked to watch either a television drama or a non-fiction program before taking a test to measure their emotional intelligence, which involved judging the emotions displayed in images of human eyes. The empathy scores of people who watched the television drama were higher than those who watched the non-fiction program (who happened to score higher than people who didn’t watch anything at all).

As Dahl points out, these findings mirror the results of a similar study in relation to reading that claimed that reading can increase empathy. The explanation provided by one study was that people who were ‘emotionally transported’ by something they were reading (putting themselves in someone else’s shoes) became more empathetic, while non-transported readers became less empathetic.

But hold on a minute – does that just mean that reading fiction makes you more empathetic, or if people with empathy simply read more? And in the case of television – isn’t it obvious that we might feel a little more connected, and therefore empathetic, as a result of siding with or against characters in a good-quality drama, than we might feel if we were watching the National Geographic channel? “Do what you will with this new research,” says Dahl. I will.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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