Why good television shows are addictive

Rapid-fire scenes — you can’t look away
You may have noticed that many shows jump quickly from one scene to another, or flit between characters in the same scene. That’s all designed to keep you glued to the screen, says Robert Kubey, a psychologist and professor of journalism media studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “We are talking about the rapid cutting or the quick montage,” he says. According to his research, rapid scene changes are especially engaging to watch, and that can lead to zoning out (wait, it’s four hours later already?). Commercials take full advantage of this tactic, flashing multiple images within a few seconds to grab, and hold your attention — look away and you miss something. Watching a person drink coffee in a coffee shop is not as effective in drawing us in as, say, switching back and forth between characters in a conversation, or an epic battle scene that quickly switches from one gory assault to another. Kubey says this reaction is wired into our biology. It’s called our orienting reflex, which involves our ability to react to movements around us, like a fly avoiding the swat of a hand. Our orienting reflex is triggered when we watch these scenes, and we become more engaged with what’s happening to the point that it’s physically hard for us to look away.