Study Links Binge-Watching With Depression

Spending an evening in front of the TV with Netflix might not be the harmless dose of television immersion that we once thought it was.

A new study shows that “binge-watching,” a practice made popular by streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, among others, is linked to negative health outcomes. Researchers at the University of Toledo surveyed 408 participants over the age of 18 about their television habits. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed identified themselves as binge-watchers, which typically means watching two or more episodes of a program in one sitting.

That group of participants reported having higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than those who did not identify as binge-watchers. As a result, the study concluded that binge-watching is associated with poor mental and physical health outcomes, calling it a public health concern that should be addressed.

Interestingly, Netflix also recently revealed its “Binge Scale.” The company examined the streaming routines of subscribers in 190 countries for nearly 100 television series and ranked them as either “Shows to Savor” or “Shows to Devour.” The existence of such a scale proves that binge-watching isn’t the exception to the rule—it’s the new normal.

Netflix may be enabling the phenomenon. Last year, the company acknowledged that it had identified the single episode in each of 25 separate series as the point where viewers got hooked. That knowledge supports its strategy of placing entire seasons of a series onto its menu, so that viewers won’t ever have to be left hanging.

Network television has, in some ways, tried to emulate the appeal of binge-watching—for example, by offering more shows in which the plot unfolds over time, and experimenting with advertising formats to keep viewers engaged—but it’s unlikely that these efforts will result in the same degree of sheer dedication shown by binge-watchers using streaming services. That’s probably a good thing.