Depressing New Report Connects TV Binge Watching With Depression

Watching hour after hour of the same TV show is linked to depression, lonliness, and impulse control issues.

image via (cc) flickr user alvi2047

It’s pretty well understood that watching a lot of television probably isn’t all that good for you, but that hasn’t stopped many of us from setting up camp on the sofa to bask in the cold electric glow of the TV for hours on end. A March 2014 Nielsen report determined that the average American spends five hours a day watching live TV, with plenty more screen time spent on computers, phones, and tablets. And now, thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, we can up our TV consumption to near-limitless amounts, with whole seasons – entire series, even – at our disposal. Yes, we’ve had DVD and VHS box sets for years, but those required switching the disc or cassette every few episodes – Now we’re able to absorb an entire show without ever having to get off the couch (bladder permitting).

And that’s not necessarily a good thing.

In a paper to be presented at the upcoming 65th Annual International Communication Association Conference, researchers from the University of Texas argue that the relatively new, and therefore under-researched phenomenon of television binge-watching has a correlative relationship with feelings of depression, loneliness, and even impulse control issues. A release put out ahead of the paper’s presentation explains:

The researchers conducted a survey on 316 18- to 29-year-olds on how often they watched TV; how often they had feelings of loneliness, depression and self-regulation deficiency; and finally on how often they binge-watched TV. They found that the more lonely and depressed the study participants were, the more likely they were to binge-watch TV, using this activity to move away from negative feelings.

The findings also showed that those who lacked the ability to control themselves were more likely to binge-watch. These viewers were unable to stop clicking "Next" even when they were aware that they had other tasks to complete.

The findings are consistent with other, more-researched forms of binge behavior, as well as existing data on television viewing habits. Still, the fact that binge-watching allows a person to fully immerse themselves in a single show (as opposed to simply watching whatever happens to be on TV over the course of a broadcast day) does potentially add a new dynamic into the mix. Unlike many other forms of binge behavior, binge-watching has become something of a socially acceptable past time, constituting low-key weekend plans for many. On platforms like Netflix and Amazon, which release entire seasons and shows in a single blast, binge-watching is not only tolerated, it’s encouraged (and re-encouraged each time a media outlet scrambles to publish the first comprehensive review of the newest season of the latest “it” show). Binge-watching has even been skewered – in a “hey, look at this thing we all do!” way – on IFC’s Portlandia:

Similarly, while the study may have found that those already depressed and lonely might use binge-watching as a means to escape from their “negative feelings,” it doesn’t seem to point to binge-watching as necessarily causing those feelings in everyone else. Still, its probably a safe bet that eschewing family and friends in favor of sitting on a sofa to watch fifteen TV episodes in a row is not the best idea in terms of both social, and physical, health.

Just something to keep in mind when the third season of House Of Cards premiers Feb. 27th on Netflix.


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