We’ve all been there: cozy on the couch, our favorite show on Netflix, telling ourselves that this is the last episode we’ll watch. But before we know it, we’re five episodes in and can’t seem to stop. We’ve just fallen into the trap that is binge watching.
Morgan Ellithorpe, assistant professor of advertising and public relations, partnered with Allison Eden, assistant professor of communication, to conduct research on the effects of binge watching. The two presented their findings at the 67th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (ICA).
“A lot of people engage in binge-watching - that is watching more than 3 episodes of a show in a row,” said Eden. “But it is relatively new in terms of being available to everyone, due to streaming technology like Netflix. We are trying to understand if there is something different about binge watching than other types of viewing behavior, and if it can have an impact on your health.”
What They Found
Ellithorpe and Eden’s research found that binge watching can have an impact on a person’s health.
“Our research suggests that binge watching is associated with detrimental health behaviors such as foregoing sleep in order to continue watching, selecting unhealthy meals, unhealthy snacking and sedentary behavior (i.e., sitting too long, less exercise),” said Ellithorpe. “Other researchers have found similar effects, including a possible link with heart disease.”
Though their data points to negative health effects, the researchers acknowledge the positive effects as well.
“Entertainment can do a lot of positive things for you, beyond just laughing and enjoying it in the moment,” said Eden. “It can keep you company when you feel lonely, help you recover from a long day of work and take you outside yourself to experience another character’s perspective. We see a lot of these positive effects generally when studying entertainment.”
Interestingly enough, these positive effects are even stronger after one has been binge watching.
“Importantly, we see some evidence that these positive outcomes of media entertainment – enjoyment, immersion and character involvement – are stronger after binge watching than they are after watching TV the traditional way (i.e., one episode per week),” said Ellithorpe.
Both researchers point out the fact that binge watching is not to be confused with problematic television use. Ellithorpe notes that problem viewing has elements of behavioral addiction, indicating continued viewing despite sometimes serious consequences. This may include issues such as inability to cut down on TV time, displacement of other activities, withdrawal and continued use despite knowing that the activity is causing problems. Ellithorpe makes it clear that although binge watching can sometimes touch on some of these behaviors, it does not generally make it to the level of problematic viewing.
“We have some evidence that although on the face of it, binge watching for hours on end seems like a potentially negative behavior that is almost akin to an addiction, it actually is not the same as problematic, addictive television use,” said Ellithorpe. “Problematic television use is worrisome for the way it impedes other aspects of one’s life – from social contact to mental health. It is important (and relieving, given its popularity!) that binge watching is different from problematic television use.”
One Step Further
Ellithorpe and Eden are interested in the overall effects of media, and more specifically how it can affect a person’s health. In terms of binge watching, they realized what a common practice it has become, and wanted to further their research in the area.
“From an entertainment standpoint, it’s a really interesting question to ask if the form of media consumption can alter the response and effects,” said Eden. “Of course, from a personal perspective, many of us have certainly struggled against the desire to watch ‘just one more’ episode of a show. Also, with Morgan’s interest in health outcomes from entertainment, and my past work on guilty couch potatoes, it seemed like a natural next step to take.”
Eden adds that their research was welcomed by many at the ICA conference. Since binge watching has become more popular over the past few years, thanks to streaming sites such as Netflix, many people were able to relate to their findings.
“It’s a common practice,” said Eden. “So people were pretty interested in finding out how best to manage this behavior and if there are any negative effects.”
Next time you’re tempted to binge watch, remember that although it may be good for your mood, it could also be detrimental to your health.
By Katie Kochanny