Netflix Addiction

It is a rainy Sunday night. I am swaddled up in an oversized furry blanket and staring, like a zombie, into the soft glow of lights that project from my living room television. The episode I was tuned into suddenly ends, and none other than Netflixs infamous 15 seconds until the next episode beginsscreen pops up. My emotions are running, and my anxiety is high, I allow the seconds to run. Ill be honest this went on for a few hours, but there is no serious harm in watching a little too much TV right? WRONG.  Binge watching (watching between two and six episodes in one sitting) has become a sort of social phenomena. A Netflix survey published around the holidays two years ago, found that 61 percent of 1,500 respondents admit to devouring TV regularly. This study does not even take into account response bias, or nonresponse bias. We can assume that some people may have felt embarrassed to answer truthfully, or that some didnt even take the time to answer. What if that 61% was even larger! We find ourselves striking up conversations with strangers by asking what Netflix shows and seasons they are watching, it can consume someone. Sadly, I must inform you that numerous studies show that binge-watching television has negative effects beyond our belief. Some of these effects include: obesity, loneliness, depression, and insomnia.

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Avid binge-watching is a form of hiding negative emotions, leading to many mental health consequences. A recent longitudinal study completed at the sleep disorders and research center, monitored the correlation between stressful events and sleeping on a sample of community members who were considered “good sleepers”. The study found that binge watching increased participants risk of insomnia by four percent. I think that this study is particularly valid because it utilized previously “good sleepers”, and demonstrated the change of pattern that occurred from the stress of a show. This could be due to the arousing nature of a television show. Often times television is watched before bed Cliffhangers cause anxious feelings that can last a while, which in turn could be stifling ones ability to fall sleep. Just like any addiction if you attempt to burry yourself beneath it through compulsive behaviors, you will always come out feeling worse.  It is shocking to think that something as seemingly harmless as television shows could have similar causes and effects as an alcohol or drug addiction. In a different study lead by Yoon Hi Sung, findings show that those who felt the most depressed also had the highest tendency to binge-watch TV shows. The randomized research study surveyed over 300 adults and asked them to answer questions relating to loneliness and levels of depression. They aligned these answers with their TV habits and reached a conclusion. Those who answered positively to feeling depressed and lonely, showed higher rates of binge watching. The only problem I have with this study is its failure to consider confounding variables. It does not take into account genetics, or other life hardships but the correlation is still enough to raise concern.

Aside from mental health, there is also the danger of physical health problems. In a survey study done by the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study, the findings are horrifying. The study which is centered around a 12,000 participant survey asked questions about general health, hours spent watching TV, smoking, diet, etc. They then took these answers and applied them to an actuarial table, modifying it to fit answers pertaining to smoking and other negative habits. The study concluded by saying that every hour spent on television after the age of 25, reduced the participants life expectancy by 22 minutes. This is a massive claim. I find it difficult to believe based on the use of a table and survey, instead. The thought of my life decreasing based off of evidence from a survey is concerning. I see it as a soft end point, requiring further assessment due to its lack of relation. Separately,  a prospective study done in 2003 monitoring 50,000 middle aged women for six years, found that for every hour of TV watched it increased the viewers chance of becoming obese by about 23 percent. These findings do not come as a surprise to me. Sitting motionless on a couch is quite obviously not going to help one lose weight, instead it actually slows the viewers metabolism and circulation. There is also the association of food with movies and television. Viewers are likely to carelessly snack while binge watching television. The mental and physical health effects are overwhelmingly negative. Although all the effects are not immediate, they do cause long term damage. You will not become obese at the very moment you are watching Game of Thrones.

So, now that you know the negative effects that accompany binge-watching TV why would you continue to do it? Robert F. Potter, PhD, director of the Institute for Communication Research at Indiana University says that we are much more susceptible to binge watching on Netflix because the company, as well as the writers want us to. Netflix makes it so easy to watch for hours on end because of the way it is formatted. Once an episode ends, the next one comes on within seconds. Once the show comes on the viewer is instantly hooked, it is nearly impossible to turn off at that point. Potter mentions that, Our brain is hard-wired to monitor changes in our environment as a survival mechanism, so it’s hard for us to tear our eyes away.Writers structure their shows with cliffhangers at the end, grabbing our attention and leaving us anxiously awaiting the next episode. Cliffhangers can generate acute stress and produce excess CRH hormone. The release of this hormone causes the body to remain energized and alert, making it harder to fall asleep. When you cant fall asleep, and arent tired, it is just an excuse to watch more tv and indulge in the vicious cycle. Aside from evolution, completing an episode is often viewed as an accomplishment to our brain. Just as completing an assignment is an accomplishment, it does not immediately differentiate between which actions are productive and which are not. This completion triggers the reward system in our brains activating serotonin and dopamine. Dopamine is an attention seeker- it always wants to be present. The release of dopamine encourages us to keep watching and therefore continue to create dopamine, much like the involvement of dopamine in a drug addiction. Serotonin could also be accessed by the bright lights emitted from the TV or computer screen.

Binge watching television is a phenomena that is becoming largely accepted due to companies such as Netflix and Hulu. While it is a seemingly harmless and enjoyable activity, numerous studies are showing the dark side. There is now evidence supporting increased levels of depression, obesity, and insomnia. Although some of the studies done are not perfect, we can not ignore their conclusions. So, will you let those 15 seconds run?

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5 thoughts on “Netflix Addiction

  1. Stephen Connelly

    In regards to insomnia, it is likely that this is reverse causation. Instead of people losing sleep because they are binge watching Netflix, they might be binge watching Netflix because they can’t sleep. People who can’t sleep may choose to kill time by watching these shows late at night. Other problems like loneliness and depression may also be due to reverse causation as those who aren’t doing things need to fill there lives with something else.

  2. Dean Giammarco

    Good post. Unfortunately I have recently taken up binge watching Netflix TV series. I was a firm believer before hand that I would never be in such a position that I would knock out hours of TV in just one sitting. But it happened! I was unaware of the side effects from binge watching tV. Now that I look back I do have trouble falling asleep especially after binging right before I got to sleep. Definitely going to keep this min mind and will be limiting my netflix session to one episode tonight.

  3. Alyssa Hope Cooper

    I as well can binge watch episodes of Netflix at a time. I have had Netflix for the longest time but didn’t start using it until 2 years ago. Ever since then I think I have watched almost all of the popular series on Netflix. A previous post I read about watching Netflix also talked about it causing depression and obesity. Both of those things never crossed my mind until I read these posts. Now I limit myself to how many episodes I watch a day and in a row. I do however watch Netflix when I am stressed. It calms me down and takes my mind off of everything else. Here is a quiz I found on Buzzfeed about if one should study for finals or watch Netflix.
    http://www.buzzfeed.com/livortiz87/should-you-study-for-finals-or-watch-netflix-1jpgc#.lkMB5byMGP

  4. Victoria Anne Rooney

    Incredibly interesting. I think many people (especially students) can attest to this study that Netflix is, indeed, painfully addicting. I think you described this issue well as a “vicious” cycle. I feel as though so many studies can be done to see the correlation between excessive Netflix-watching and increased weight or depression. I found it interesting that the association between depression and watching netflix can actually be reversal. Some people who may be acutely or severely depressed may gravitate more towards watching Netflix while the act of watching Netflix itself may also CAUSE depression? Very interesting. I am curious if there are ways to train the brain into discerning between an efficient accomplishment and a trivial one such as finishing an episode on Netflix. Personally, I can agree with all of this seeing as that I am shamefully an avid Netflix watcher myself. A study as relevant and important as this one is definitely something that can be tested around campus; possibly even conducted by a student. I found an interesting article on the recent prevalence of Netflix and its overarching success over the past few years.http://www.weeklystandard.com/article/netflix-effect/782745

  5. Sarah Rose Peterson

    I got the free months trial of Netflix in November and sadly decided to cancel the membership. I found myself studying less due to watching addicting shows. You did a great job in your blog describing the negative effects of binge watching Netflix and used many studies that made me feel better about my cancelation. Here is a study to how binge watching is actually changing our brains http://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2014/06/08/how-netflix-is-changing-our-brains-and-why-that-may-not-be-all-good/

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