Binge-Watching – Top 3 Pros and Cons

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Source: Kara Hengesbach, “What to Binge Watch over Holiday Break,” cm-life.com, Dec. 18, 2017

The first usage of the term “binge-watch” dates back to 2003, but the concept of watching multiple episodes of a show in one sitting really gained popularity around 2012. [1] Netflix’s 2013 decision to release all 13-episodes in the first season of House of Cards at one time, instead of posting an episode per week, marked a new era of binge-watching streaming content. [2] In 2015, “binge-watch” was declared the word of the year by Collins English Dictionary, which said use of the term had increased 200% in the prior year. [3]

73% of Americans admit to binge-watching, with the average binge lasting three hours and eight minutes. [4][5] 90% of millennials and 87% of Gen Z stated they binge-watch, and 40% of those age groups binge-watch an average of six episodes of television in one sitting. [4]

The coronavirus pandemic led to a sharp increase in binge viewing: HBO, for example, saw a 65% jump in subscribers watching three or more episodes at once starting on Mar. 14, 2020, around the time when many states implemented stay-at-home measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. [28]

Is Binge-Watching Good for You?

Pro 1

Binge-watching establishes beneficial social connections.

The act of bingeing content fosters a sense of community around a show, something experts call a “shared cultural space.” This common ground allows viewers to discuss and enjoy the show with everyone from a coworker to the stranger in line at the grocery store. This shared space makes it easier to relate to other people and share personal perspectives. [6] [7] [8]

Romantic relationships can also be strengthened by binge-watching together because it serves as a fun activity that creates a shared interest and offers an easy way to spend time together. Licensed professional counselorHeidi McBain said that “if both people are partaking without distractions, laughing together, holding hands… quality time is being fostered.” [9]

A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that binge-watching can help long-distance relationships by replacing shared activities such as going to dinner together and having mutual friends. [10]

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Pro 2

Binge-watching has health benefits like stress relief.

According to psychiatrists, binge-watching releases dopamine in the brain, which creates a feeling of pleasure and can help people to relax and relieve stress. [11] Psychologists say that finishing a series can give viewers feelings of control and power, which can be beneficial if viewers are not feeling that in their daily lives. [7]

John Mayer, PhD, clinical psychologist, stated, “We are all bombarded with stress from everyday living… It is hard to shut our minds down and tune out the stress and pressures. A binge can work like a steel door that blocks our brains from thinking about those constant stressors that force themselves into our thoughts.” [8]

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Pro 3

Binge-watching makes a show more fulfilling.

While binge-watching, the viewer can feel the pleasure of full immersion (aka “the zone”), which is a great feeling similar to staying up all night to finish a book or project. [12] Shows made for binge-watching, such as Orange Is the New Black and Stranger Things, are often more sophisticated and have multiple intricate storylines, complex relationships, and multi-dimensional characters. [12] [13] [14]

Watching several episodes at once tends to make the story easier to follow and more enjoyable than a single episode. [7] That’s a big reason why the show You went unnoticed while airing on Lifetime but became a sensation once available to binge on Netflix. [30]

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Con 1

Binge-watching leads to mental health issues.

A University of Texas study found that binge watchers were more likely to be depressed, lonely, and have less self-control. [15] One of the study’s authors, Yoon Hi Sung, PhD, stated: “When binge-watching becomes rampant, viewers may start to neglect their work and their relationships with others.” [16]

Binge watching can lead to addiction. Dr. Renee Carr, a clinical psychologist, said, “The neuronal pathways that cause heroin and sex addictions are the same as an addiction to binge watching. Your body does not discriminate against pleasure. It can become addicted to any activity or substances that consistently produces dopamine.” [8]

A study found that rather than relieving stress, excessive TV watching is associated with regret, guilt, and feelings of failure because of a sense of wasted time. [18] When that binge-watching session is over, the viewer may be more likely to “mourn” the loss of the show by experiencing depression, anxiety, and feelings of emptiness. [19] [20]

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Con 2

Binge-watching can cause serious physical health problems.

Sitting for extended periods of time has long been linked to slow metabolism, heart disease, cancer, blood clots, and deep vein thrombosis. [21] [22] Binge watchers are prone to sit on the couch eating unhealthy food and snacking more, which is linked to weight gain. [22] [23]

One study found that binge-watching was related to poorer sleep quality, more fatigue, and insomnia, because of pre-sleep arousal. [5] Researchers have also found that watching three or more hours of TV a day is associated with premature death. [25]

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Con 3

Binge-watching makes the show less fulfilling.

A study found that people who watched multiple episodes of a show in one sitting reported “significantly less show enjoyment” than people who watched one episode at a time. [27] Damon Lindelof, the co-creator of popular shows such as Lost, stated, “This idea of anticipation. That Christmas morning feeling… doesn’t exist in binge culture.” [26]

The popularity of bingeing shows makes social media a minefield of spoilers for people who haven’t had time to finish a new season, and a lack of agreement over when the spoiler embargo should be lifted causes rifts among shows’ fanbases. [29]

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Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you prefer watching several episodes of a new show at one time or one episode per week? How does your viewing experience change when binge-watching?
  2. What other pros and cons for binge-watching can you list? Which side do you find more convincing and why?
  3. What reasons can you think of to explain why some streaming services like Netflix drop a full season at once? What reasons might a service such as Disney+ have for posting just one episode per week?


Footnotes:

  1. Merriam-Webster, “Binge-Watch,” merriam-webster.com (accessed Dec. 10, 2018)
  2. Ruth Spencer, “With Netflix Releasing House of Cards All at Once, Tell Us about Your TV Binges,” theguardian.com, Feb. 5, 2013
  3. BBC News, “Binge-Watch is Collins’ Dictionary’s Word of the Year,” bbc.com, Nov. 5, 2015
  4. Todd Spangler, “Binge Boom: Young U.S. Viewers Gulp Down Average of Six TV Episodes per Sitting,” variety.com, Mar. 21, 2017
  5. Liese Exelmans and Jan Van den Bulck, “Binge Viewing, Sleep, and the Role of Pre-Sleep Arousal,” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2017
  6. Grant McCraken, “From Arrested Development to Dr. [sic] Who, Binge Watching Is Changing Our Culture,” wired.com, May 24, 2013
  7. Chelsea Stone, “How Unhealthy Is Binge Watching? Press Pause and Read On,” rd.com (accessed Dec. 12, 2018)
  8. Danielle Page, “What Happens to Your Brain When You Binge-Watch a TV Series,” nbcnews.com, Nov. 4, 2017
  9. Kylie Fitch, “Is Binge-Watching TV Together Good for Your Relationship,” rewire.org, May 2, 2018
  10. Sarah Gomillion, “The Hidden Relationship Benefits of Binge-Watching,” scientificamerican.com, Oct. 25, 2017
  11. Kimberly Truong, “Here’s Why Binge-Watching Feels So Good,” refinery29.com, Aug. 16, 2018
  12. Elizabeth Cohen, “In Defense of Binge-Watching,” qz.com, Apr. 28, 2017
  13. Kira Goldring, “The Perspective on Binge-Watching,” theperspective.com, 2018
  14. Steven Johnson, “Watching TV Makes You Smarter,” nytimes.com, Apr. 24, 2005
  15. Anna Daugherty, “UT Study Links Binge-Watching, Depression,” alcalde.texasexes.org, Feb. 16, 2015
  16. Lily Feinn, “Binge-Watching Television May Make Us Depressed, According to New Study,” bustle.com, Mar. 7, 2016
  17. Health Editor, “What Your Binge-Watching Habits Say about Your Mental Health,” health.com, Jan. 30, 2015
  18. Johannes Gutenberg Universitat Mainz, “Using Media as a Stress Reducer after a Tough Day Can Lead to Feelings of Guilt and Failure,” uni.mainz.de, July 28, 2014
  19. Monita Karmakar and Jessica Sloan Kruger, “Those Post-Binge-Watching Blues? They Might Be Real,” theconversation.com, Mar. 4, 2016
  20. Matthew Schneier, “The Post-Binge-Watching Blues: A Malady of Our Times,” nytimes.com, Dec. 5, 2015
  21. Alice Park, “It Doesn’t Matter How Much You Exercise if You Also Do This,” health.com, Jan. 20, 2015
  22. Amanda MacMillan, “6 Ways a TV Binge Affects Your Body, and How to Fight Each One,” health.com, Feb. 27, 2015
  23. Howard LeWine, “Distracted Eating May Add to Weight Gain,” harvard.edu, Mar. 29, 2013
  24. Tuck Sleep, “Streaming Content and Sleep – 2018 Study,” tuck.com, 2018
  25. Hoai-Tran Bui, “Study: Watching Too Much TV Could Lead to Early Death,” usatoday.com, June 25, 2014
  26. Nathan McAlone, “The Creator of ‘Lost’ Explains Why He Doesn’t Like Netflix-Style Binge-Watching,” nordic-businessinsider.com, Apr. 11, 2017
  27. Jared Cooney Horvath, et al., “The Impact of Binge Watching on Memory and Perceived Comprehension,” firstmonday.org, Sep. 4, 2017
  28. Cheryl Idell, “HBO NOW Streaming Data in Wake of COVID-19,” medium.com, Mar. 24, 2020
  29. Julia Alexander, “Disney Is Leading the Charge against Netflix by Returning to Weekly Episode Releases,” theverge.com, Aug. 29, 2019
  30. Alexis Nedd, “Some TV Shows Are Better off Binged. Others, Not So Much.,” mashable.com,Jan. 25, 2019