Why DO so many young people watch TV with the subtitles on?

Why DO so many young people watch TV with the subtitles on? Experts reveal how growing up with TikTok has made it ‘natural’ – and why it’s a good thing!

  • A YouGov poll revealed 61% of viewers aged 18-25 watch TV with subtitles
  • READ MORE: Gaming ‘can be DEADLY for children’, study suggests 

Growing up on social media means a generation of children are routinely scrolling through captioned videos on platforms including TikTok and Instagram.

So it is perhaps no surprise that, in a recent YouGov study, 61% of viewers aged 18-25 said that when they sit down to watch TV, they choose to switch on the subtitles – even if they do not have a hearing impairment.

With more detailed subtitles being added to TV programs and films all the time, including sound effects and names of songs featured, viewers are including the option when tuning into their favourite show. 

As the trend becomes ever popular, TikTokers have been mocking their own viewing patterns, joking about how they cannot concentrate on what they are watching unless subtitles are on.

Among those jumping on the trend is former X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing contestant Fleur East, who posted a video on TikTok of herself watching TV with subtitles on – however, the minute she turned her vision away from the TV, the audio turned to inaudible nonsense. 

London-based psychologist Giulia Bianchi told FEMAIL that younger people are more inclined to opt for subtitles because their brains are more attuned to multitasking.

She added that, overall, using them as an aid to your viewing experience helps you increase your comprehension of the program, helping you to process background noise or a line delivered in a quieter tone you may otherwise have missed.

‘Younger people watch TV with subtitles on [because] they are better at multitasking,’ Giulia said. 

‘The human brain is more maneuverable in our 20s. So, watching TV while following subtitles or texting or browsing the internet is usually possible for many young people.’

Some TikTok users including former Strictly Come Dancing contestant Fleur East (left) have joked about watching TV with and without subtitles, suggesting that what they watch is inaudible nonsense if they can’t read along to the words onscreen

She added that the improvement in detail of subtitles is also enhancing viewing experiences for people who are hearing impaired (for whom the method was originally intended), making TV more accessible. 

‘Subtitles promote improved retention, accessibility, better comprehension, and cultural exposure, she said.

‘In my opinion, these all have a positive impact on the viewer experience.’

However, the TikTok trend in which viewers claim they ‘can’t hear without the subtitles on’ suggests they are less able to multitask.

Creators on the platform joke that the thing they are watching becomes totally inaudible if they turn their head away from the screen, as they are only able to take in the sound by reading the words onscreen. 

One TikTok user, @maddydyerrr made a video joking about watching TV without captions on the screen, as she filmed herself looking confused while a mashed-up and nonsensical audio version of Beyoncé’s Single Ladies played over the footage. 

Commenting on the video, people agreed with her, as one viewer wrote: ‘I cannot concentrate properly if there are no subtitles.’ 

Another said: ‘I physically can’t hear without subtitles.’ 

Speaking to Stylist, Dr Daria J Kuss, who is a psychology professor at Nottingham Trent University, argued that the way human beings communicate, via texting and social media, has influenced the shift towards people choosing captions on the TV.

She said: ‘Reading and texting is an activity that often accompanies other activities and has become normalised. Subtitles have become part of this caption trend.’

Dr Kuss added that the way we consume TV and film as a society has changed, with many people opting to watch on smaller screens like laptops or even smart phones while travelling around.

‘Our brains are naturally programmed to read. It is an additional activity that takes place on top of viewing a show, and requires additional cognitive effort.’ 

Last summer, the fourth series of Netflix hit Stranger Things was praised for its incredibly detailed subtitles, which included descriptions of almost every sound effect in the sci-fi storyline.

In particular, viewers were left in stitches over the description of ‘tentacles squelching’ in relation to the villain Vecna. However, the detailed subtitles helped viewers who are hard of hearing comprehend the episodes much better.

Speaking to Netflix, writer Jeff T who produced the subtitles for the show explained it was important to get across the sound effects for people in the audience who were hard of hearing, to fully immerse them in the world of the show.

‘The auditory component is so crucial to the effect of this season,’ he said, adding sound design is ‘crucial’ in fantasy worlds.

He continued: ‘We wanted to try to accurately reflect that in our subtitles for the Deaf and hard of hearing because this is their primary avenue for access to those sensory inputs.’

Jeff also explained his process for writing subtitles into a TV show, noting the limitations upon him which include the length of time it takes someone to read a line, as well as the amount of space on the screen.

And it seems Jeff’s work paid off, as he revealed: ‘My best friend is hard of hearing in one ear, and he came up to me and he was like, ‘This is one of the first times, if [not] the only time, I’ve just felt fully immersed in a show without having to turn the volume all the way up’.’ 

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