What Your TV Binge-Watching Routine Says About You

·Deputy Editor

Making the case for a Netflix break. (Photo: Getty Images)

Sometimes, all we want to do is sit in our bed and watch hours on end of Gilmore Girls and House of Cards. But according to a new study, this behavior could be a sign — or a result — of a bigger problem, at least for millenials.

Binge-watching TV shows is associated with loneliness, depression, and the inability to catch — and stop — ourselves from engaging in this extreme viewing behavior, new research suggests. Binge-watching is defined as “watching between two to six episodes of the same TV show in one sitting.” 

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, is based on survey responses from 316 people ages 18 to 29, who were asked about their TV-viewing behaviors, the types of shows they watched, and their loneliness, depression, and ability to self-regulate.

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The researchers found that people who binge-watched TV reported higher levels of loneliness and depression, as well as less self-control, compared with people who didn’t binge-watch TV. Loneliness, depression, and the deficiency in self-regulation were also found to be predictors of binge-watching behavior.

Some possible reasons: “Those who feel negative emotions such as loneliness and depression may binge watch TV series to stay away from their negative feelings,” the researchers wrote in the study. It’s also possible, they noted, that binge-watching is a means to keep up with “trendy” TV shows, which is then used as conversation fodder later on.

The researchers also noted the link between self-regulation deficiency and amount of binge-watching. “The results imply that the higher self-regulation deficiency an individual has, the more episodes he/she tends to binge watch,” they wrote. “Indeed, binge viewers may find themselves clicking the ‘Next’ button for one more episode after another, even though they realize that there are things to do the next day or they need to sleep.” They also noted that self-regulation deficiency was the biggest predictor of binge-watching behaviors, and that the inability to resist the desire to watch show after show could trigger feelings of guilt. (Anyone who’s ever felt kind of bad about whiling away any entire Saturday afternoon in front of a screen can attest to this.)

Related: How To Be OK With Saying ‘No’

The researchers found that a whopping 75 percent of people in the study copped to binge-watching behaviors. Other characteristics of binge-watchers, as revealed by the study, include:

  • Most binge-watching sessions are one to three hours long. The vast majority of people who reported binge-watching — 75 percent — said they did so for one to three hours in one sitting. Nearly 14 percent said they binge-watched for three to five hours in one sitting, while 1.7 percent said they binge-watched for five to seven hours in one sitting. One of the participants even admitted to binge-watching for more than seven hours.

  • Two to three binge-watching sessions a month is most common. Forty percent reported partaking in binge-watching at this frequency. Nearly 28 percent said they binge-watched once a month, 18 percent said they binge-watched four to five times a month, and 13.9 percent said they binge-watched more than six times a month.

  • Binge-watching seems to be a solo activity. A little more than 82 percent of binge-watchers in the study said they watched the shows on their own, versus with other people.

  • Online streaming services are the method of choice for binge-watching. Netflix, Hulu, and the like were used by 92 percent of binge-watchers, while TV websites were used by 18.1 percent of binge-watchers. Download services such as Google Play and iTunes were used by 10.1 percent of binge-watchers, and DVDs and TV marathons were used by 4.6 percent of binge-watchers.

  • Most people like to watch a lot of comedy shows in a row. Comedy/romance was the most popular genre for binge-watching (68.8 percent). Sitcoms, dramas, and action/adventure shows were also quite popular. And for specific TV shows, 5.5 percent of participants reported recently binge-watching Orange Is The New Black, Grey’s Anatomy, and One Tree Hill.

The new study was presented at the 65th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association; because it has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, the findings should be considered preliminary.

In addition, it’s important to note that the study did not show that binge-watching TV causes loneliness, depression or self-regulation deficiency, nor does it show an opposite cause-and-effect relationship — it merely shows relationships, particularly predictive relationships. In addition, the study was only conducted in millenials — further research is needed to see if the findings apply to other age groups, the researchers said.

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