NA TEN Exclusive, Turkish Dizis, Women & Dizis

The Brain On Dizi: What Draws Us Women Into The Turkish Dizi

A Psychological Perspective by Dr. Patti Feureisen

The Psychology and Brain Chemistry Of Deep Love

Why are women from all over the world tuning into the dizi world week after week? Go to any dizi shown on YouTube and you will see the comments of women from South Africa, Germany, America, Spain, England, Canada, Russia, Poland, India, Greece, Bolivia on and on.  And they are all saying more, more, more; we love dizis! Blame our guilty pleasure on our brain chemistry because a lot of our drive to keep watching has to do with our brains!

Credit: North America TEN

Neuroscientists, psychologists, psychiatrists, all study how love affects the brain.  As early as the late 1800’s, British psychologist Edward Titchener found that reading an emotionally charged story with compelling characters released the neurotransmitters in the brain that could cause empathy, a term he is known to have coined from those studies. In 2008 Dr Uri Hasson of Princeton created a new field of study, neuro-cinematics. He and other neuroscientists found that the brain activity was ignited while binge watching compelling stories that caused empathy and love.   

We all want to feel loved.  We all want to experience love, and, as women, we also want romance. It is only metaphorically true that we experience love through our hearts because, in reality, physiologically we experience love through the neuro transmitters in our brains. As the neuro transmitter  serotonin in the brain is released, we experience love. Three strong love transmitters are responsible for this bonanza, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. Unsurprisingly, all three are released in abundance when we watch dizis!

Women’s Brains Vs. Men’s Brains

Neuroscientists continue to study the specific ways in which men and women’s brains are wired differently and it is all a part of how we experience love. Men and women experience romantic love differently.  In their 2012 study Blood Levels of Serotonin Are Differentially Affected by Romantic Love in Men And Women,  Drs’ Langeslag, Ven Der Veen and Fekkes found that the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin are all primarily released at high levels in women experiencing love and this is very influenced by gender, as women experience a serotonin increase while men actually can have a decrease in serotonin regarding romantic relationships. 

The neuro-transmitter dopamine explains our proclivity to binge watch dizis; we want to keep feeling the high. Dopamine is very similar to serotonin; dopamine is released in the brain when falling in love. The other strong neurotransmitter that goes off in our brains while watching is oxytocin which increases our feelings of trust and compassion and love, and at the same time it can reduce feelings of anxiety.

Source: Women’s Health

A recent Stanford study actually found a physical pain reduction when in love. Believe it or not, just looking at photos of couples snuggling, holding hands, or kissing  can cause pain reduction. So just think what several hours of watching a wonderful dizi with an amazing storyline filled with love, romance, mystery, drama enacted by extraordinary actors with a backdrop of beautiful orchestrated music, and heartbreaking folk songs does to our brains. Our brains are having a party that we don’t want to leave! Which brings us to binge watching the dizi.

Omer & Defne in Kiralik Ask

Just One More Episode, Please

When we binge watch, we are spending several hours giving our brains plenty of time to release dopamine and serotonin.  We are drawn in, we want the conflicts to end, we want the lovers to re-unite, we want the family to be happy again and we want to know what will happen next. This is where the dizi is particular to the brain function.

Because the dizi is often 1.5 to 2.5 hours long, each episode is a festival for our brains, as well as our emotional state. We can binge watch to get to a better place, through the dizi we become involved in others’ lives, in their family dynamics, escape our own lives, or actually render insight into our own lives through their stories.

During covid we had to escape reality. We were not able to go to work, we couldn’t see some of our loved ones, some of us lost parents to covid, co-workers, neighbors, on and on. If there ever was a time our brains needed a serotonin reuptake it was during the worst of covid, with deaths reported every day.  For the first time in many of our lives we had time at home, time to bake, time to create, and time to immerse ourselves in stories, be it in books or on TV.  This is when I discovered the dizi and have been hooked ever since.

The Camera Takes Its Time: The Eyes, The Hands, The Love ….

What is feeding our brain activity while engrossed in a dizi? Yes, some of the most beautiful people to look at are in the Turkish dizis. The diversity in the faces and shapes, skin shade, thick beautiful hair, have been written about for decades. Yet it is so much more than the good looks and stellar acting and wonderful stories.

The camera takes its time in Turkish dizis. The cinematography and direction deserve a lot of the credit. We see the lines on the faces, the endless different expressions in the eyes, the close ups of the hands, the close ups of the moment after 10 hours of so of a dizi, when the hands touch for the first time. When that magical anticipated first touch happens and the camera holds that moment, we are present in that moment, and our neuro-transmitters are jumping up and down. After all, we just spent 10 odd hours getting to know the characters and wanting them to join harmoniously!

The Hands

Holding hands is a primal need beginning in infancy when the infant grabs onto the adult’s hand. Scientists have been studying the psychological value of holding hands for centuries and they have unanimously found that the interlocking of the fingers by holding hands stimulates receptors in the brain which are able to lower blood pressure, lower the heart rate and provide a deep sense of security. How many slow-motion scenes have we all watched when the first touch of the couple is capture by the camera as it zooms in on their hands?

Ceylin & Ilgaz in Yargi
Seher & Yaman in Emanet

A great example of slow camera work is in Kiralik Ask. Almost every time Omer walks in with a new suit or playing basketball, he is in slow motion, the music is playing in the background and we are entranced. When in the elevator, Defne drives him crazy by playing with his pen on her neck, the camera shows us his discomfort and lets the camera sit on Defne and the pen.

Omer & Defne

In Emanet, when Seher walks down the stairway for the first time in her dress made to look like a fairy angel, the camera takes its time and we watch her and we then watch Yaman and we are entranced again.

Seher & Yaman in Emanet

We love to see the actresses show the lines in their foreheads when they cry or scream. Too often many American actresses have so much cosmetic surgery that we cannot discern the expressions on their faces, let alone facial lines. There are several scenes in various dizis where the actresses seem make up free. Countless Turkish actresses are not afraid to be vulnerable and uncovered, authentic, leaving us with a sense of resonance with their beings and the characters they portray.

The Eyes

Every dizi focuses on the eyes. We see into the eyes and feel as if we know what the person is thinking inside as the camera lets us see the slightest eye twinge, the tears welling up and slowly pouring out, the widened pupils, the narrowed eyes.  The looks between a child and her parent, the look between grown women with their friends, between mothers and daughters, between lovers, between those who will become lovers. The look of an orphaned child as he looks at the adult ready to take him to his new home. As the quote by lyricist Paulo Coelho states “the eyes are the mirror of the soul and reflect everything that seems to be hidden; and like a mirror, they also reflect the person looking into them.”

In the daily, hour-long series Emanet, the story is actually built on the way these two main characters look into each other’s eyes as an additional dialogue in the script. In each episode their eyes are prominent, more than dialogue, more than the story. Again, as the slow camera focuses us on the eyes of Seher and Yaman, we can see their private thoughts. We don’t need the story line, we see in their eyes what they are feeling, what they are saying to each other, how the story will move forward all through their eyes.

When we see the characters we are rooting for hold hands and look into each other’s eyes, we feel genuine happiness for them as the camera takes us deeply inside their emotional lives. All the while our neurotransmitters are being charged and re-charged.

What Makes Dizis Different:  

One aspect that makes dizis different than series in other countries is the sweeping amount of women story tellers and screen writers. Back in 2012 the Turkish Daily News printed a story about tailoring Turkish TV series to what will appeal to women. This was under the direction of the amazing Zeynep Karahan Uslu, who at the time was the deputy of the Justice and Development Party.  Ms. Karahan Uslu pushed the issue that women need to be represented in the creation, writing, acting and directing of dizi’s in Turkey.

In many other countries, the representation of women writers seems scant compared to Turkey. For example, in the USA women comprise approximately 30% of the writers on series and, recently in the UK, prominent women screenwriters wrote a scathing letter to the British Television executives outraged that  only one out of ten of the new series had female screen writers. The proclivity of women writers know what resonates with us and they create men that are sensitive, romantic, respectful and loving while at the same time these stories allow women to have agency and to manifest depth that lead the stories, something again lacking in American series.    

In his recent article in TRT World, Faisal Al Yafai talks about what Hollywood can learn from Turkish TV.  Mostly he talks about diversity and says how Turkish storytelling is particularly illustrative in its diversity and vastness of other, while Hollywood tends to be limited and look inward. Turkish dizis portray characters from many different backgrounds, and even though Istanbul features prominently in many dizis, a grand geographic diversity is also shown through locations in different regions of the country.

Dr. Gulseren Budayicioglu

What also renders the dizi different besides the length of the episodes are the amazing intricate stories which often include complicated psychological back stories with intelligence and depth and stellar acting which continuously is  portrayed  through intense chemistry between actors. The psychiatrist Dr. Gulseren Budayicioglu knew what she was doing by giving her books over to female screen writers with such compelling stories like Istanbullu Gelin, Dogdugun Ev Kaderindir, and Masulmar Apartmani, all of which feature women’s stories and have  subterranean layers of psychology in every scene.  Stories like Kadin, Kiralik Ask, Alev Alev are all written by women and the female characters have multi-dimensional levels to their personalities and experiences.

In her brilliant article for the Guardian Dr Arzu Ozturkmen, who teaches oral history at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, says it perfectly , “What Turkey produces for television are not soap operas, or telenovelas, or period dramas: they are dizi. They are a ‘genre in progress’ with unique narratives, use of space and musical scores.”

We need to acknowledge the Koreans for having wonderful stories that several dizis have taken on and it seems have caught up to the Koreans in having a world wide audience. For now I am a loyal fan to the dizi and the amazing Turkish culture filled with colorful food, loving complicated families, stunning men and women, men who are sensitive and romantic, that hug each other, know how to cry, women who know how to love deeply, women who stand up for themselves, women who are courageous against abuse,  music that takes me to beautiful places, landscapes that are breathtaking, stories that pull me inside of them, and a language and culture that I keep learning more about. Can’t wait till the next episode of Yargi, when all those love neurotransmitters will be released!

Article copyright (c) North America TEN & Dr. Patti Feuereisen

All pictures and video clips belong to their original owners. No copyright infringement intended.

Dr. Patti Feuereisen is a psychologist in Brooklyn, New York.  Author of Invisible Girls: Speaking The Truth About Sexual Abuse and founder of the non-profit Girlthrive. Presently working with her publisher to have Invisible Girls translated into Turkish. She is obsessed with dizis as they continue to get her through the pandemic.

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  1. Thank you for your article on the addiction of women to dizis. I have been there and know the powerful hook and hold these stories have on our cinematic practices. I had some misgivings however as I felt positioned as a reader and as a woman into a deterministic pattern of behaviour, based on my gender. The psychological présélections of women are your area of expertise not mine, yet I felt uneasy about the very different emotions we are told we experience as opposed to men in these scenarios. The citation you gave was well over a decade old and I’m wondering if there might be more recent research on this. I know there are men who love the dizis as much, and who experience romance as much as women. I agree that women writers in Turkey have made a brilliant contribution to the dizi output in Turkey as have female writers in South Korea. The Korean screenwriter of the Korean original of Kiralik Ask was in fact female too and the Turkish rendition was very successful given the incomparable Baris and Elcin combo. But as a woman viewer I also love action, thriller and a wide range of other types of tele dramas and enjoy these as much as romance dramas. Would love to hear your thoughts on my comments .

    1. Hi Marie,
      Thanks for your very smart assessment of my essay. I have to be on my toes with the NAT audience! First of all, wow I had no idea Kirialik Ask was originally in Korean! Now I must take a look at it. Years ago I watched some Korean series, but they never hooked me at all like the Turkish ones. As a Jewish woman, I relate so much to the culture and emotions and family life in the dizis. I had a lot of fun writing this and yes it is definitely leaning in the direction of male brains vs female brains. I am very aware that there is a great controversy presently with some scholars and scientists believing that male and female brains are not very different. There is also much new scientific study on gender roles and how the brain is affected during a gender transition. This essay was fun and light-hearted. I chose the citations that fit my beliefs, I could have said “Although presently there is controversy on the lack of differences in men’s and women’s brains, for the purpose of this essay I am leaning on the side or research that men and women experience love differently through their brain chemistry. ” I appreciate your pointing that out. Also, from the past 18 months or so with my obsession, I have found on social media and many conversations that mostly women seem to be hooked on the dizi. Also, I was focusing on love in this essay, I totally agree in liking some of the thrillers and mysteries – that is why I ended with Yargi, a fabulous mystery. Thanks again for your feedback!

  2. Thank you Patti for this insightful and informative article! I started watching dizis right before the start of covid and have been hooked ever since. They have truly been what’s gotten me through the lockdowns. I’m not a binge TV watcher, and almost never have watched a show or movie more than once, but all that has changed with Turkish dizis. My friends just laugh and think, oh this poor woman.

    I am also a Psychotherapist and fascinated by the family relationships, the relationships between men, and men and their mothers in the shows. I have been developing an article to address these relationships and how they differ from relationships American men have.

    Last year I started to take Turkish lessons as I was intending to spend a couple of months in Turkey this year. Hopefully Covid will allow me to do that.

    I look forward to reading more of your articles.

  3. What a fantastic article! Indeed Turkish writers and directors are masters at crafting stories that trigger all the right sensations.

    On another note, I find it interesting that psychology has clearly identified that biological male/female brains perceive differently, yet our society is continually telling us that men and women are the same, gender is fluid, a ‘choice,’ etc.

  4. Fantastic article!!! I’m from Puerto Rico and many years ago I watched soap operas from Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Portugal and Brazil. But when my mother started to watch Fatmagul, she was hooked. Then I started to watch Cesur ve Guzel and the rest was history. Right now, I watch the lovely Love is in the air, The ambassador’s daughter and my favorite Stiletto Vendetta. Turkish dizis are the BEST…

    1. Hi Maritza!
      Yes yes yes! I also loved The Ambassadors Daughter- You must see Love For Rent, it’s a real escape. So glad this essay resonates with you since you seem to be an expert in world wide series!

  5. I’ve been asking mostly aloud for several years now why someone isn’t doing a master thesis on the addiction to Turkish dizis. Thanks for a wonderful article. I can tell you from personal experience that Turkish dizis changed my life forever. I’ve been to Turkey 4 times and will be going back in September. I have Turkish friends whom I adore. I’m learning the language and in August of last year I converted to Islam, mostly influenced by Osman Hoca in Sen Anlat Karadeniz. All this at the age of 79. Who would’ve guessed that this late in life I could be so fundamentally changed by storytelling? And you’re very right about the Korean dramas. The most important difference is that they are able to tell as complete a story in many fewer episodes. I have noticed that dizis are reducing their numbers as well.

    1. Carolyn! You are an inspiration! I love how you went so deep into the storytelling and immersed yourself in the culture. I relate to everything you have said and I am a woman of a certain age. When I tell my friends and clients that the dizi has really changed my life too, they are mystified. I have yet to travel to Turkey but as soon as covid is liveable I plan on visiting Istambul. I am learning the language through the dizi’s. I totally understand how you have loved the Muslim faith through the character Osman Hoca in Sen Anlat Karadeniz. I wrote about him in my essay on Sen Anlat K. That series was epic for me, and showed the beauty and depth of Islam. xxo p

      1. Just a side note. I was lucky to meet Mehmet Ali Noroğlu in Ankara this past September. Through him I’ll be in contact with Sait Genay and with luck will meet him this coming September. Wonderful isn’t it what one dizi can do.

  6. Wonderful article! Affirmation of what I’ve been thinking since I discovered Dirilis Ertugrul and then the dizis. They are good for the soul, the heart, and the body.
    Inshallah, I’ll be visiting Turkey this summer to experience the sites, the food, the culture of this beautiful place.

    1. Hi Debbie- right back at you! I too want to visit Turkey this summer. It feels like NorthAmericaten is a promotional travel guide for Turkey on an intrapsychic level so deep that draws us all into these amazing stories and then we want to feel the land and the people and the energy. xx p

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