Study Says Commercials May Make TV Better

New research on consumer behavior suggests that interrupting an experience can make it more intense, which is why commercials may actually make TV more enjoyable.

Researchers had 87 undergraduates watch an episode of the sitcom Taxi. Half watched it with commercials, and the other half watched just the show. Afterwards both groups rated how much they enjoyed Taxi compared to Happy Days, which they were familiar with. The group that saw Taxi with commercials preferred it to Happy Days by a significant margin. "The reason this happens, we argue, is that we tend to adapt to a variety of experiences, as they're happening," said lead researcher Leif Nelson, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of California, San Diego. "Listening to a song, watching a TV program, having a massage: these all start out very enjoyable, and within a few minutes we get used to it. Interruptions break that up." However, there are some exceptions. People don't habituate to shows that are hard to follow or have many unexpected plot twists, so an interruption can negatively affect their experience. Also, artists, tradesmen, and musicians who get lost in their work can be disturbed by breaks. [The New York Times]