Are You Binge-Watching Because You’re Depressed?

A new study found that people who were depressed binge-watched TV more—and used TV binges to deal with negative emotions

Man Watching TV
RF Pictures/Somos Images/Corbis

Did you feel down when your five-season marathon rewatch of Breaking Bad came to an end? It might have had nothing to do with the show's sobering content. Binge-watching is on the rise—but new research found a correlation between that behavior and depression, along with a whole host of physical and relationship woes.

In a survey of 316 18- to 29-year-olds, a group of researchers from the University of Texas at Austin asked study subjects about both their TV habits and their emotions. And when the researchers analyzed the responses, they found a number of surprising correlations between binge-watching and bad feelings.

Survey participants who were depressed and lonely binge-watched TV more—and they used their TV binges to deal with negative emotions. The researchers also looked at the ability to “self-regulate”—to control one’s actions. And they found that struggles with self-regulation did extend to binge-watching behaviors: people who have difficulty with this would choose TV over other important tasks.

Yoon Hi Sung, who led the study, notes that the behaviors of people who binge-watch are similar to those associated with other addictions. In a release, he warns that it’s time to change how we view binge-watching:

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. Physical fatigue and problems such as obesity and other health problems are related to binge-watching….When binge-watching becomes rampant, viewers may start to neglect their work and their relationships with others.

So what constitutes a binge? Last year, Netflix enlisted the help of Harris Interactive and a cultural anthropologist to define the phenomenon. They defined a binge as just two episodes of viewing in one sitting and concluded that 73 percent of TV streamers have positive associations with binge-watching.

But the Atlantic’s Nolan Feeney begs to differ: after surveying his colleagues and looking into previous attempts to define what constitutes a TV binge, he decided to define a binge as four or more episodes in one sitting, “often at the expense of other perceived responsibilities in a way that can cause guilt.”

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