Reconsuming is not all about being alone, however. When people travel to favorite vacation spots, for example, they might do it with someone else, notes Jaye L. Derrick, a scientist at New York’s University at Buffalo who’s looked into reconsuming as part of research into self-control. In that way, reconsuming is about reconnecting. In fact, the social aspect even comes into play when reconsuming alone. For instance, Derrick says colleagues have found that consuming familiar comfort foods reminds people of specific social situations. “You might think of your mom’s lasagna,” she says. “Consuming that food reminds you of that social connection.”
Similar benefits come from watching or reading about characters who are familiar to you from many prior reconsumptions. “You’re hanging out with your friends, basically,” Derrick says. “You don’t have to worry about following the storyline because you know what happens. You just enjoy the experience, and you don’t have to put any work into doing that.”
A lot of times, reconsumptions of fictional worlds and revisits to vacation spots, even by yourself, are tied to reliving past real-world experiences with real people. For example, people may visit the spot where they received a marriage proposal, Russell says. “Or someone gave you a book, so by rereading it you’re reflecting back on the person and the circumstances, as well as the actual book,” she says.
Reconsumption also helps boost energy levels and can even recharge your aptitude for self-discipline. When people exercise willful self-control by, say, not indulging in a sugary snack, they use up some of their limited supply of self-control. That makes it harder to exercise self-control the next time. Resting for a while can help us rebuild self-control, and one of Derrick’s studies found reconsumption-type activities had similar effects. “Basically, what I found was that after doing an effortful task that typically depletes self-control, if people thought about their favorite fictional world, in this study they regained their self-control.”
The takeaway is that the supposedly pointless activity of watching a show we’ve already seen has a point after all. “Rather than seeking television and other fictional media to ‘zone out’ or escape, as is often believed,” Derrick says, “the current research suggests that people seek familiar fictional worlds to become rejuvenated.”