TV breakups 'can result in viewer distress'

Many people experience distress with regards to breakups, even temporary ones, on their favourite television shows, a new study has found.

Researchers from Ohio State University discovered that some individuals, especially those seeking companionship, feel they have a strong relationship with the TV characters they follow - and can be adversely affected when they leave the screen.

The investigation, which was carried out by Emily Moyer-Guse - an assistant professor of communication at the institute - and former graduate Julie Lather, also found that viewers replaced the time they would normally spend in front of the box with other media-related pursuits.

It has been published in the journal Mass Communication and Society and Ms Moyer-Guse said of the viewers: "They weren't using the opportunity to start exercising or spend more time with friends or family."

Chartered Psychologist Dr Cynthia McVey of Glasgow Caledonian University said: "Identification with characters on television shows may have powerful effects. Given frequent exposure to these characters' lives and personal situations, it is hardly surprising that empathy develops with concomitant affection and concern for these fictional characters."

"This, it seems from this research, may be particularly strong in lonely watchers who lack emotional connections with others in the real world. It is not surprising, therefore that the breakup of hitherto happy on screen relationships and/or removal of a loved character can become personal and meaningful to these viewers and create disquiet and distress."

"These viewers may feel hurt by the programme and in an attempt to protect themselves from further distress they may reject the other characters and storyline and look for happier alternatives that meet their expectations and fantasies."

"Interestingly, as viewers who are strongly connected to the characters appear to tend to lack companionship in the first place they would not have friends and/or family to fill the space or provide consolation or distraction; they may also be lacking in confidence and so be unlikely to find new activities which involve meeting new friends and would likely look for alternative methods to engage with other people i.e. through other media related information."

A recent study from the British Journal of Social Psychology found that female body image is often negatively impacted by materialistic advertising messages found in the media.