5 Reasons We Finish TV Shows We Dislike | The Psychology Behind

5 Reasons We Finish TV Shows We Dislike | The Psychology Behind


Key Points

  • The Sunk Cost Fallacy - Keep watching TV series you dislike due to prior time investment, hoping for a payoff.
  • Curiosity and Hope - The desire to know how the story ends drives us to continue watching even mediocre shows.
  • Peer Pressure and Social Belonging - Influence from others can compel us to watch popular series for social connection.

Have you ever found yourself glued to a TV series that, frankly, you don’t even enjoy? It seems absurd, right? Why would anyone waste precious hours on something that doesn’t bring joy? Yet, many of us do it, episode after episode. Let’s dive into the psychology behind why we often feel compelled to finish TV series we dislike.

1. The Sunk Cost Fallacy

One major reason is what economists and psychologists call the “sunk cost fallacy”. This is a tendency to continue an endeavor once an investment in money, effort, or time has been made, even if the current costs outweigh the benefits. With TV shows, the investment is your time. You’ve already watched several episodes, or maybe even seasons, so you feel like you must see it through to the end, hoping it might eventually pay off or at least conclude satisfactorily.

Peter W. G. Morris and Joana Geraldi explored this in their book on project management, which discusses how the sunk cost fallacy can affect decision making in various fields. Similarly, when watching TV, you’re ‘managing’ your leisure investment, waiting for a payoff.

2. Curiosity and Hope

Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it also keeps us watching mediocre TV shows. Even if a series isn’t living up to your expectations, the desire to know how the story ends can be a powerful motivator. This curiosity is driven by a need for closure that’s deeply embedded in human psychology. Furthermore, hope plays a critical role here too. We hope that maybe, just maybe, the storyline will improve or that unsatisfactory plot twists will be well-resolved in the end.

Joe Moran in his book about everyday lives touches on how curiosity drives human behavior, pushing us to seek answers and resolutions, a trait that keeps us hooked to even underwhelming narratives.

3. Peer Pressure and Social Belonging

Sometimes, it’s not our own choice to keep watching a TV series, but the influence of people around us. Watching popular TV shows often provides easy conversation starters and helps in bonding over shared experiences. If your friends or family are watching a show, you might feel pressured to watch it too, just to be part of the conversation.

Matthew D. Lieberman explores this in his inquiry into how our social connections shape our actions and satisfaction in life. Watching the same shows as others can contribute to a shared social identity and personal relationships, even if you don’t particularly enjoy the show yourself.

4. Habit and Routine

After a long day, it can be easy to slump on the couch and switch on the TV. If you’ve started a series, finishing it can become more about sticking to a routine than actual enjoyment. Over time, watching certain shows becomes a habit, a part of your evening you might not even question, even if the show isn’t thrilling anymore.

Charles Duhigg discusses how habits are formed and how they can dominate our lives in his insightful book on the power of habits. This can perfectly explain why we sometimes passively continue watching something out of sheer routine.

5. The Completionist’s Bias

Some of us have a strong bias towards finishing what we’ve started. This trait is beneficial in many areas of life as it drives us to complete tasks and reach goals. However, when it comes to entertainment like TV shows, this bias can compel us to continue with a series just to tick it off our mental checklist.

In her book “Finishing the Job,” psychologist Sheila Herring demonstrates how the completionist’s bias can sometimes lead us to engage in less rewarding activities simply to feel a sense of completion.


In summary, several psychological and social factors can lead us to continue with TV series we don’t particularly enjoy. Whether driven by the sunk cost fallacy, curiosity, social pressures, habit, or a desire for completion, it’s clear that our brains often prioritize these factors over pure enjoyment.

Next time you find yourself watching a series you don’t enjoy, consider these five points. Maybe, it’s okay to press the “stop” button and use that time for something more fulfilling. After all, our leisure time should be enjoyable, not a chore!