Binge-watching TV and other 'guilty pleasures' are as valuable as seeing family and friends, says study

There is value in binge-watching television during the quarantine, say scientists. (Photo: Getty Images)
There is value in binge-watching television during the quarantine, say scientists. (Photo: Getty Images)

If binge-watching your favorite television show is giving you life during the coronavirus pandemic, keep at it. According to a small new study, “guilty pleasures” like comfort food, TV shows and celebrity gossip are solid stand-ins for spending time with friends and family.

The study of 173 ethnically-diverse people was conducted before the coronavirus pandemic infected more than 2.5 million people globally, but the University of Buffalo, SUNY researchers say their findings are pertinent as people self-quarantine at home and hold virtual happy hours or dinner parties.

“There’s a stigma around non-traditional social strategies, long regarded as ‘social surrogates’ and ‘worst-cased scenarios,’” study co-author and UB graduate Elaine Paravati, tells Yahoo Life. “But we call them symbolic social bonds that can help you thrive socially and psychologically.”

How people meet their social needs through routes that are traditional (spending time with friends) and non-traditional (reading books, watching movies) has been studied before. But thus far, no one has measured how both methods work together to enhance wellbeing and quality of life. The study, published this month in the journal Self and Identity, used self-reported data from subjects and a "social fuel tank” measurement created by the researchers to ascertain the effectiveness of each social strategy.

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“The combination of both strategies predicts the best outcomes in regard to wellbeing and fulfillment,” Paravati tells Yahoo Life. “But activities like watching TV or reading add an extra layer of vibrancy and pizazz, making people feel as though life is more purposeful.” Reading Hollywood gossip, she says, can broaden a sense of connection if you can really relate to a particular celebrity. Or making Mexican food can reimagine Taco Tuesdays with friends.

The authors elaborated in their study, “Although this one nonsignificant effect should be interpreted with caution, it might suggest that although both traditional and nontraditional social strategies can enhance an individual’s life, nontraditional strategies seem to add extra meaning and depth to the human experience.”

The research is useful in how we understand mental health outcomes during quarantine, says Paravati, who adds, “We want everyone to get through the pandemic.” And if that means re-watching Tiger King? So it shall be.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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