A new study sheds some light — or darkness — on the modern habit of binge-watching. Researchers at the University of Texas found that the more lonely and depressed a person is, the likelier he or she is to sit through a marathon of their favorite TV show.
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; how often they had feelings of loneliness, depression and self-regulation deficiency; and how often they 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.”
The findings also showed that those who lack the ability to control themselves were more likely to binge-watch. These viewers were unable to stop clicking the next episode even when they were aware that they had other tasks to complete.
“When binge-watching becomes rampant,” Sung said, “viewers may start to neglect their work and their relationships with others. Even though people know they should not, they have difficulty resisting the desire to watch episodes continuously.”
The study’s authors noted that because binge watching is a relatively new behavior — from DVD box sets to Netflix, Hulu and the like — little empirical research has been done on it. But psychological factors such as loneliness, depression and self-regulation deficiency have been known as important indicators of binge behavior in general.
“Our research is a step toward exploring binge-watching as an important media and social phenomenon,” Sung said.
The study will be presented in May at the 65th annual International Communication Association Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico.