Certain personality traits may explain why people binge-watch TV shows

KRAKÓW, Poland — Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus are just a few of the many streaming services that have taken the world by storm. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these services have only boomed, bringing about the all too common phenomenon we know as binge-watching. It turns out, however, that sitting back and watching an entire series in one sitting may lead to a multitude of health issues stemming from behavioral addictions, according to a recent study.

Binge-watching may be predicted by a number of different criteria. In the study of 645 respondents ages 18-30 who reported viewing more than two episodes of a TV program in a single sitting, some 20% confessed to watching 6-20 episodes in one session. When investigators tested their impulsive behavior, emotional maturity, and incentives for binge-watching, impulsivity and poor planning were found to be strong indicators of excessive TV-watching.

Motivation also stems from short attention spans and the need to be amused, according to experts at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. The number of shows watched in a given session was shown to be most closely correlated with viewers’ empathy and emotional clarity and desire to be amused, according to the study. Researchers say having little response inhibition and foresight may both be important indicators of excessive binge-watching.

“I think that the most interesting result of the study was that motivational factors were stronger predictors of problematic binge-watching than personal predispositions, such as impulsivity,” says lead author Jolanta Starosta, a PhD student from the Institute of Applied Psychology at Poland’s Jagiellonian University, in a statement. “It may be related to the fact that problematic binge-watchers engage in marathoning TV series, mainly because they want to escape their daily life problems and regulate emotions, but decide to continue watching other episodes of TV series because of more entertaining reasons.”

“We have found out that anxiety and depression are significant predictors of problematic binge-watching,” adds Starsota. Despite the resemblance, it would be naive to conclude that binge-watching is as dangerous or harmful as other compulsive habits. It is possible that the content providers also have an impact on binge-watching. As soon as one episode ends, certain services instantly load the next. Season finales with unknown endings urge viewers to begin the next season.

“A few seconds to decide if someone should or should not continue watching is not enough to make rational decisions and may lead to loss of control over the amount of time spent on watching TV shows,” Starosta adds. “However, some platforms have already made some changes to help viewers control their behavior. For example, Netflix added the option to disable the autoplay of another episode.”

The study’s limitations are acknowledged by the researchers, who note that it only includes volunteers from Poland. They suggest further research cross-nationally. In the meantime, perhaps it’s time to give Netflix and Hulu a rest. Your favorite shows will still be there when you return!

This study is published in Frontiers in Psychiatry.