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Jonathan Fader, Ph.D.
Jonathan Fader Ph.D.

Binge TV: Is Our New Way of Watching (Breaking) Bad?

Find out why we love to binge watch. TV has changed & in the process so have we!

Its 11:07pm. You have already watched an episode of your favorite TV show on Netflix and you are calculating to find out what the 47 minute episode will do to your bedtime. Perhaps it’s you alone, or maybe you are negotiating with your partner or friend to see if you can squeeze in one more episode of that juicy storyline. One more chance to see what happens to Walt or Khaleesi. Enter Binge Watching. Binge watching is commonly defined as watching 2-6 episodes of a TV show in a single sitting.

How common is Binge Watching? Netflix did a study that revealed that 61% of its customers Binge watch and 73% of those do have, “positive feelings towards binge watching TV.” So, according to them, if you are doing it, you are certainly in the norm. But the study doesn’t address the question of whether there is anything wrong with Binge Watching. Before we discuss that, let’s look at why we do it.

If you are like me, you enjoy escaping into the medieval chess match of Game of Thrones, the gritty world of Breaking Bad or the comic darkness of Orange is the New Black. Maybe you were even one of the ones who spent Valentine’s Day this year binge watching Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in House of Cards Second Season premiere. Why are we so compelled to watch these shows? How did TV overtake movies as the entertainment of choice? It’s a question that Stuart Heritage began to tackle in his piece on the topic in the Guardian.

One of his 10 reasons about why TV has become so good is the main reason that I believe we are compelled to Binge Watch: Character Development. Recent TV shows have had a larger focus on character development. While the plot lines are equally complex and frequently shocking, TV has recently put a lot more effort into creating character-based shows that reveal deeply psychological motives and themes. In a movie we get between 90 and 130 minutes on average to bond with a character. In a six season TV show we get 70-100 hours of time to have a relationship with the people on the screen. We know their quirks and their strengths. We can love and hate them at the same time. It’s the difference between a one night stand and a committed relationship with someone you are living with.

These characters are our friends, and that friendship is only compounded and strengthened in that watching these shows usually becomes a ritual that we do with real people in our lives. Instead of a one off movie date with a friend, we spend years ceremoniously discussing the flaws and virtues of each TV protagonist.

Like any relationship, it’s hard to let go and we want to stay attached. There have been many reports of sadness regarding the end of epic, character-intense shows such as Breaking Bad. I personally was so affected by the end of the show Lost that I needed to write an article about the meaning of the finale so I could let go.

So is there a down side to all this Binge Watching? Kevin Spacey Says No! But there are some who disagree. Jim Pagels from Slate says that there are many reasons to slow the process down. However, his reasons primarily have to do with enjoying the show like a fine wine. There isn’t much out there about the negative effects on us for packing in 6 hours of our favorite show in a night.There is certainly a screen full of research on the negative effects of excessive TV watching in general. After all, Americans are watching an average of about five hours of TV daily, This type of TV viewing has been linked to negative consequences such as obesity. But what about the results from watching all that TV in tandem? Two to Five hours without stopping. Some think that the behavior and brain activity of binge watching my be similar to other addictive behaviors. There are those to begin to discuss Television Addiction as a real issues that requires attention. Where is the balance and how do we know if we need to change our behavior?

Recently, I wrote a post on technology addiction and I think the same principles apply here. There is such an immediate gratification from TV as it exists today. At the press of a button we get more story. Whenever and wherever we want it. This change in availability is what may cause a need to examine the consequences of our binging. If binge watching is negatively affecting your work performance or your relationship than perhaps it’s time to cut back a bit.

Here are some questions to ask yourself (or your partner) to assess your TV Binging consequences:

1. Has your TV Binging caused you any significant impairment or distress?

2. Has it made you late for work?

3. Caused you to lose sleep?

4. Caused arguments?

5. Is there time to discuss the show with your loved ones?

6.. How frequently do you eat while you watch?

In most cases, and when done in moderation, Binge Watching can be a way to bond and enjoy long-form story telling with the people you love. However, as with any behavior it is usually helpful to understand our motives and monitor our intake to make sure we are aware of all the positive and also negative potential consequences. If you do have more questions about moderating your use hit me up on twitter @drfader. Well, that’s all for now, I’m off to watch my favorite show.

Follow Dr. Fader on Twitter @drfader

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About the Author
Jonathan Fader, Ph.D.

Jonathan Fader, Ph.D., is a psychologist and an assistant professor of family medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

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