Binge-watching episodes of our favourite TV shows may seem like a harmless pastime, but new research links this habit to depression.
A study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that the more lonely and depressed someone is, the more likely they will binge-watch television.
Binge-watching is defined as watching between two to six episodes of the same TV show in one sitting.
Little empirical research has been conducted on this behaviour, as it is a relatively new term.
People engage in binge-watching to temporarily forget the reality they face such as stress from studying, the researchers said.
Researchers conducted an online survey of 316 people between the ages of 18 and 29. Respondents were recruited from a southwestern university in the U.S. and Amazon Mechanical Turk, an online job recruitment service.
They were asked questions regarding their TV watching habits and psychological health.
The findings also showed that those who lacked the ability to self-regulate were more likely to binge-watch. Although they were aware of other things they needed to do, these viewers were unable to stop themselves from clicking the ‘next’ button.
“As far as coping strategies go, binge-watching TV is probably not the worst, but it is something to be concerned about,” said Dr. Nigel Turner, Independent Scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), who specializes in behavioural addictions.
“There is an opportunity cost,” said Turner. “There’s the potential that people who are using TV-watching as a coping strategy may be losing out on time that they should be spending working or doing homework.”
Multi-tasking is a productive option.
“Merge the relatively maladaptive behaviour with something more adaptive,” said Turner, such as exercising while watching TV.
“The treadmill might actually work to break that depression,” he said.
Researchers also point to health problems that are related to binge-watching, such as physical fatigue and obesity.
“Since TV watching is sedentary, people tend to eat and drink while watching,” said Turner. “You might end up with obesity problems or drinking problems indirectly as a result of binge-watching.”
Sarah Drysdale, 18, a first-year Food and Nutrition Management student at Humber College, watches a few hours of TV per night.
“I live by myself so I like to have the background noise,” she said.
Sara Flores, 23, a third-year Massage Therapy student, enjoys watching Grey’s Anatomy for its science and medical content.
“I usually watch TV during my free time, on Christmas Break and Reading Week,” said Flores.
The researchers will present their findings this May at the 65th Annual International Communication Association Conference in Puerto Rico.