The Depressing New Discovery About Netflix Marathons

Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
As the premiere of House of Cards quickly approaches, we're gearing up for what's sure to be a satisfying binge-watching sesh. However, new research suggests there may be a link between bingeing on our favorite shows and feelings of loneliness and depression. Bummer.

In the research, which will be presented at this year's Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, researchers surveyed 316 people between the ages of 18 and 29. Participants were asked about their TV-watching habits, including how many hours they watched, what kinds of shows they were into, and what platforms they used. The volunteers were also asked about their emotional well-being focusing on three specific dimensions: loneliness, depression, and how well they regulate their need to binge-watch. 

The results showed that the more TV people watched per day, the more likely they were to experience loneliness and feelings of depression (such as sadness or a sense that everything is an effort). Specifically, participants who admitted to binge-watching — generously defined as watching at least two episodes of the same show in one sitting — were the most likely to report these negative emotions. And, as those negative feelings increased, so did the number of episodes they binge-watched. 

However, this is just a correlation; we don't know if binge-watching makes people feel more lonely or if these emotional states send them down a binge-watch spiral. Previous research suggests that watching TV, especially regularly watching the same shows, can make us feel like we have more control in our lives and are less lonely, possibly because the experience recreates the feeling of being with friends. Along those lines, the researchers here suggest that those who feel lonely may be using their Netflix binges to make themselves feel better or to keep their negative emotions at bay. But, without self-control, excessive TV time could become a self-perpetuating cycle of ever-increasing loneliness.

That said, we totally get it — why go out at all when you can immerse yourself in drama that doesn't actually affect you? Maybe just invite someone over to join in on the marathon once in a while.
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