Why do we binge-watch TV shows?
Hey everyone! I hope everyone has been having a great fall semester and getting through those midterms! After long days of studying, exams, or working at the library, it’s always important to de-stress and take productive breaks. Activities like exercising, self-care, or any other hobbies are great ways to do this. One thing that definitely helped me get through some tough points throughout the semester was watching my favorite TV shows! Has anyone watched the new series ‘Squid Game’? Or the new ‘Sex Education’ season? These TV shows have currently been a popular topic of conversation.
Watching TV shows can bring people together by giving them something in common to speak about, such as sharing opinions on the show or connecting with the characters. Throughout the day we can even find ourselves thinking about a particular show or wanting to watch the next episode as soon as we get the chance.
This brings up various questions such as: Why do we find ourselves so immersed and addicted to particular TV shows? Why do we sometimes end up binge-watching an entire series in one sitting? These questions are all especially relevant today, as many of us are occasionally guilty of them. So what exactly is binge-watching? Binge-watching is “acts of watching content on TV or online for hours on end in one sitting.” A Netflix survey found that 61 percent of users regularly watch between 2-6 episodes of a show in one sitting.
In this day and age, several streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Prime, or Disney+ have become much more accessible. These services provide quick and easy access to hundreds of TV shows. There are several reasons as to why we could watch TV; TV shows can be informative and interesting, they can contain fascinating storylines, and they can have characters we can connect with. Ultimately, TV shows are an easy, feel-good fix. They can help us relax and de-stress on tough days, and they provide an escape from reality and daily hassles and challenges we may be facing. However, is this enough to explain the addictive feeling towards the shows we feel sometimes? Or our ability to watch several episodes in one sitting?
Interestingly, there is actually a biological explanation for this! According to Dr. Renee Carr, a Clinical Psychologist, that addictive feeling could actually be explained by the chemicals released in our brain while we watch TV shows. "When engaged in an activity that's enjoyable such as binge-watching, your brain produces dopamine, this chemical gives the body a natural, internal reward of pleasure that reinforces continued engagement in that activity.” The release of dopamine signals the brain to keep engaging in that activity, as your body experiences this ‘high’ and it starts to develop cravings for this feeling.
Apart from obvious cliffhangers in a TV show and how interesting it may be, we begin to crave the happy feeling we obtain from watching the show. However, over time, we will produce less and less dopamine after watching a certain amount of television as we start to experience a plateau effect. Our bodies have built up a tolerance to the dopamine, therefore, we start to watch even more, perhaps even begin to binge-watch.
There is a fine line as to when this habit can become health-compromising and can lead to behavioral addiction, such as when watching TV starts to interfere with your physical and psychological health. This includes starting to cancel plans with friends, choosing to watch another episode over another activity, reduction in quality of sleep, etc.
A study conducted at the University of Toledo reported that 142 of 408 participants identified themselves as binge-watchers. This group reported higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than those who were not binge-watchers. This could also be connected to the low feeling we feel after finishing a series, a sense of emptiness without it.
There is nothing wrong with watching TV, but it is important to remain mindful of how much we are watching it and not to let it interfere with our daily life activities, and most importantly, our mental health. Some strategies to help lower the amount of time spent watching TV and keep discipline include limiting the amount you watch, setting timers, deleting streaming services off your phone, or even allocating specific days to watch shows. Another strategy could be to watch an episode as a reward after completing a task.
To conclude, as we continue to watch our favorite TV shows on our favorite streaming platforms, we have to remember to be mindful and control how much we are watching, as our watching habits could quickly become unhealthy!