A new study in the Journal of Health Psychology is the first to provide a scholarly definition of binge TV watching and to investigate some of the factors that explain how much people indulge in it.
According to Emily Walton-Pattison at Newcastle University and her colleagues, binge TV watching is when you “watch more than two episodes of the same TV show in one sitting” – a habit that’s become more frequent since the popularity of DVD box sets and streaming TV services.
I have fond memories of my own first binge TV session: watching 24 with my wife in a holiday cottage in the Lake District, a crackling fire in the background, snow falling outside. Bliss. But the researchers see things differently: binge TV watching contributes to sedentary behaviour, increases risk of obesity and interferes with healthy sleep habits.
They surveyed 86 people (recruited via social media) about their binge TV watching habits and various psychological constructs, such as whether they expected to experience regret after a binge session. Based on the researchers’ definition, the participants had binge-watched an average of 1.42 times in the past week, taking in an average of 2.94 episodes in 2.51 hours. BBC iPlayer and Netflix were the most popular means of bingeing.
A quarter of the difference in how much people binged was explained by their intentions to binge and expectations that it would be a rewarding, fun thing to do. Other factors that were also relevant included experiences of automaticity (“I did it without thinking”) and anticipated regret and goal conflict (seeing bingeing as interfering with other activities) – both of which were associated with less bingeing.
The researchers said that “further more in-depth and rigorous research into being watching is warranted” but that their preliminary findings already offer hints as to how to curtail people’s binge watching habits. For example, they said that TV streaming services could be adapted to counter the mindless aspect of bingeing. “Some online streaming services include in-built interruptions after a number of consecutive episodes have been reached. There would be opportunities to harness these interruptions,” they said.
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