In only a few days, I plan on hosting a binge-watching party for season three of Netflix's phenomenal "House of Cards." Past seasons have been consumed vociferously by my wife and I — easily two to three episodes at a time — and we find it an enjoyable way to spend an evening.
According to a new study, however, the fun and harmless nature of binge-watching may be glossing over more serious psychological issues — namely loneliness, depression, and a lack of self-regulation. Researchers at the University of Texas surveyed hundreds of millennials aged 18 to 29 years old, acting under the assumption that those who used alcohol and food to counter depression could be doing the same thing with television marathons.
The study found that 75 percent of the participants binge-watched such series as "Orange is the New Black," "One Tree Hill," "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy." While the quality of most of those shows would depress nearly anyone, researchers discovered that there was in fact a connection between personal depression, loneliness, and a lack of self-control. (Note: I haven't been able to find what percentage of respondents reported such 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 one of the researchers, Yoon Hi Sung. "Physical fatigue and problems such as obesity and other health problems are related to binge-watching and they are a cause for concern. When binge-watching becomes rampant, 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. Our research is a step toward exploring binge-watching as an important media and social phenomenon."
So what's the takeaway here? Are we all binge-watching because we're depressed and lonely? While I'm not saying that's not the case for some people, it seems a stretch to be alarmed by the findings of this study. Sure, binge-watching isn't the healthiest activity (we all know that sitting will be the end of us), but I'm not about to give up on something that's akin to reading a good book. In a world where everything (yes, everything) will kill you, binge-watching offers a pleasant respite.
Now if they ever study increases in whiskey consumption after binge-watching "House of Cards" or "Justified," I'll happily admit I have a problem.
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