What Happens to Your Brain When You Watch ‘Virgin River,’ According to Psychologists

It’s no secret that we can watch Netflix’s Virgin River over and over without ever getting tired of the characters, scenic views and cliffhangers. But why do we obsess over some shows and not others? Is there a scientific explanation for why romantic story lines are so appealing to viewers?

what happens to your brain when you watch virgin river 3
Courtesy of Netflix

That’s why we turned to two experts—neuropsychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez and clinical psychologist Dr. Catherine Athans—who gave us a full rundown on what happens to your brain when you watch romantic dramas like Virgin River. (And no, it isn’t all bad.) Keep scrolling for details.

Meet the experts:

  • Dr. Sanam Hafeez is a New York-based neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind, a diagnostic and treatment center for mental health services. She specializes in neuropsychological, educational and developmental evaluations with a focus on culturally sensitive assessments.
  • Dr. Catherine Athans is a California based clinical psychologist and the author of Love, I Am. She has 30+ years of experience helping people reconnect with their highest self.
what happens to your brain when you watch virgin river
Courtesy of Netflix

1. Curiosity Is Piqued

Dr. Hafeez began by discussing the appeal of romantic stories. She explained there are four main factors that attract viewers to these types of shows: escapism, emotional fulfillment, idealized relationships and relatability. “[Romantic content taps] into universal emotions such as love, happiness and connection,” she said. “Watching characters navigate romantic relationships and overcome obstacles can evoke positive emotions, leading to a sense of emotional satisfaction and vicarious enjoyment.” As for what happens to the brain when you watch romantic shows, well, keep reading.

2. Pleasure Centers Are Activated

Dr. Athans explained that the show itself isn’t what attracts viewers—it’s how they feel while watching it. “The pleasure centers become activated and morphine-like substances are secreted in the brain,” she said. “You feel a kind of high, you feel carefree and that feeling becomes addictive, so you continue. If you got that feeling with one episode, why not watch another! You are really addicted to the chemical in your brain, not necessarily the show, but the feeling the show gives you.”

3. Imagination Lights Up

It’s difficult to not immerse yourself into a story line—especially when a show is as captivating as Virgin River. When watching a series, your imagination allows you empathize with the characters and root for those who remind you of people in your own life. “Romantic TV shows often depict idealized versions of relationships and scenarios,” Dr. Hafeez told PureWow. “Your brain's imaginative centers might become more active as you mentally project yourself into these scenarios and explore different possibilities.”

4. Blood Flow Increases

According to Dr. Athans, the act of watching feel-good TV increases blood flow and stimulates brain activity. “When you watch something that’s pleasing, the blood vessels expand, so they allow more blood flow not only to the brain, but throughout the entire body,” she explained. “When there’s more blood flow, there’s more flow of nutrients and oxygen, which give you a felling of ease and that all is well.”

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Courtesy of Netflix

5. Stress Is Reduced

The biggest benefit of watching TV is that it distracts your brain from reality. As a result, you may experience decreased levels of stress. “Engaging with romantic content can provide an escape from real-life stressors,” Dr. Hafeez explained. “Your brain’s stress response might decrease as you immerse yourself in the fictional world of the TV show.”

6. Cognitive Processing Is Triggered

Once your imagination is activated, you may begin to analyze the plot and characters—this process is known as cognitive processing. “Your brain might also engage in cognitive processing, such as analyzing the characters’ interactions, predicting plot developments and evaluating the outcomes of various relationship dynamics,” Dr. Hafeez said.

7. Serotonin Is Released

Your body also releases a calming neurotransmitter called serotonin. According to Dr. Athans, serotonin is “the chemical that lets us know we have value, that we are OK. Feeling valuable is important for us to prosper in life. If we feel valuable, we feel worthy of good things. It's vital! When more serotonin is available the brain works better, easier and the person feels more accomplished.”

Dr. Hafeez went on to describe how serotonin affects our mood, adding, “Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating mood, emotions and well-being. Engaging in activities that evoke positive emotions, such as enjoyment from watching TV, can lead to the release of serotonin and contribute to a positive mood.”

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Senior Editor

Greta Heggeness is a California-based editor at PureWow and has been writing about entertainment since 2015. She covers everything from awards shows to exclusive celebrity...