“Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it sure makes the rest of you lonely.” -Charles M. Schulz

You have not received a quote from me the for past two days. Did the absence make you more or less excited when today’s arrived?

In a small study of TV shows that took a hiatus, Bluefin Labs found that ratings and social media buzz sometimes increased and sometimes decreased as a result. It appeared that absence was beneficial for dramas but hurt ratings for sitcoms.

Another study by a pair of marketing professors may explain why. Xianchi Dai and Ayelet Fishbach investigated how periods of abstinence affected people’s desire for various things (like Facebook). They found that substitutes were the most important factor.

When something is irreplaceable then absence does, indeed, make you want it more. But if a substitute exists then the absence will actually make you less interested in the original. In fact, it doesn’t even matter whether the substitute is good or not.

Applying this to the TV show study, dramas have a continuing plot whereas sitcoms do not. A different show will never completely replace your favorite drama because it cannot answer the question of “what happens next?” to the characters you love. But sitcom episodes generally stand alone so they are more easily replaced.

What (or who) is irreplaceable in your life?


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