Are you binge-watching?


What is binge-watching?

To quote Wikipedia, “binge-watching, also called binge-viewing or marathon-viewing, is the practice of watching television for a long time span, usually of a single television show. In a survey conducted by Netflix in February 2014, 73 percent of people define binge-watching as watching between 2-6 episodes of the same TV show in one sitting." Wikipedia adds that "binge-watching as an observed cultural phenomenon has become popular with the rise of online media services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video with which the viewer can watch television shows and movies on-demand.”


When did it become a common problem?

Since there was TV, this created a problem in families where family members were glued to their TV for hours though episodes of a single show could not be watched continuously a few decades ago as the programming in the past had weekly breaks. However, viewers could continue watching other shows after some interruptions by advertisements in-between. This also applied to movie watching where movie-goers could hop from screen to screen in the movie theater.


The technological capability today to watch multi-episodes of a single TV show became possible when Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video, as well as YouTube, provided streaming of shows and videos. This has made binge-watching more common.


How do streaming websites get users to binge-watch TV?

Different techniques are used to increase viewership and binge-watching such as having:

  • Autoplay, which required viewers to manually change it if they do not wish to watch continuously.

  • Cliffhangers, whereby instead of having every episode as a standalone, the storyline is “more episodically as the mystery unravels” – almost endless.

  • Serialized programming to capture attention from the start where the plot unfolds with each episode.

  • Unpredictability in storyline.

  • Removal of commercials or even having commercials be serialized to tell a story to keep viewers hooked.

What specific features can contribute to this problem?

Primarily, the convenience in getting streamed episodes at your fingertips 24x7; free or relatively cheap rates to watch; and an escape from daily routine, social isolation, and boredom.


How do people get addicted to binge-watching?

Most people start out by simply turning on a show on TV or their computer to relax. When people are particularly stressed, anxious, depressed or lack family and social support, this form of relaxation can take over their lives and lull them into continuous watching.


According to a study, “Media Bingeing: A Qualitative Study of Psychological Influences”, there is a “forming of one-sided, unconscious bonds between viewers and characters” that enhances bingeing. The author, Raj Devasagayam, of Siena College, also highlighted the “lack of societal concern could be another main driver for those bingeing on television. With no negative public opinion, consumers feel invincible while indulging on media.”


What are some signs that indicated that you are addicted to it?

A quick PCOC (pronounced as peacock) test is:

  • Progression - Increased tolerance

  • Compulsion - Loss of control

  • Obsession - Preoccupation

  • Consequences - Negative impact

What are some positive and negative effects of binge-watching?

According to a recent study by researchers from the University of Texas, there seems to be a connection between binge-watching TV series and feelings of depression and loneliness.


The study, titled “A Bad Habit For Your Health? An Exploration Of Psychological Factors For Binge-Watching Behavior,” asked 316 people ages 18-29 how often they:

  • Watch TV ,

  • Had feelings of loneliness, depression and self-regulation deficiency, and

  • Binge-watched TV.

It found that people who are lonely or depressed were more inclined to binge-watch, using the activity to move away from negative feelings.


“Even though some people argue that binge-watching is a harmless addiction, findings from our study suggest that binge-watching should no longer be viewed this way,” said Yoon Hi Sung, who conducted the study with Eun Yeon Kang and Wei-Na Lee.


“Physical fatigue and problems such as obesity and other health problems are related to binge-watching, and they are a cause for concern.” (http://deadline.com/2015/01/binge-watching-linked-to-depression-and-loneliness-1201362817/)


USA Today (April 15, 2016) quoted Dr. Robert Glatter saying that “prolonged sitting tends to increase insulin levels, which is the hormone that promotes fat storage and weight gain.” Dr. Glatter continued to note “that being inactive for long periods of time also raises the risk of a slew of health concerns including metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.” (http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/nation-now/2016/04/15/binge-watch-marathon-tv-94-hour-guinness-world-record/83069370/ and http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/02/04/383527370/does-binge-watching-make-us-depressed-good-question)

Forbes also published an article based on research that reported “in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ.” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2014/10/08/multitasking-damages-your-brain-and-career-new-studies-suggest/#3635fa6b2c16)

As binge-watching is an emerging social activity, more and in-depth research is needed to understand its positive and ill effects.


Are there any effects that specifically affect students?

Binge-watching takes students away from their school work, family and social life, sports and exercise for health, sleep, and other activities that balance their life.


How are some ways that students can try and stop an addiction to binge-watching?

Students can monitor their own show-watching, set clear limits for themselves, and give themselves consequences if they violate their own limits. They balance their lives to include:

  • High speed - low speed

  • Acceleration - stillness

  • Watch TV - watch sunsets

  • Read blogs, emails - read real books, poetry, comic books

  • Engage in virtual communication - engage in face-to-face conversation

  • Surf the movie net - surf the “InnerNet”

Since TV watching is a form of entertainment, a question for viewers to pose themselves is the number of hours per day that they need for screen-based entertainment and why.

Copyright © 2020 Lily Lu, MBA, MA, LMFT

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