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Does Binge Viewing Have an Effect on Your Brain?

The Prevalence of Binge Viewing and its Effects on Your Brain

TV binge-watching isn’t a new phenomenon. Shutting out the world for a long weekend of small screen companionship has been a favorite pastime of social outliers for years. Whether sick, heartbroken, hungover, or a marathon-movie junkie, devouring full-season DVD sets over a weekend is not a new practice. The reason media outlets are circling this story like rapacious vulchers is because TV binge-watching has finally hit the mainstream.

binge viewing effects on your brain

With streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant Video, consumers now have more viewing options readily at their fingertips than ever before and their appetite is insatiable. Unlike years past when network television executives doled out helpings of entertainment like gruel, today’s television viewers aren’t simply begging for more, they’re demanding it. Television shows have become feasts to be gorged upon, their content consumed in mere hours.

I admit I’ve lost a few weekends to binge-watching. I devoured the first two seasons of Homeland in anticipation of the season three premiere, and I developed a love/hate (mostly love) relationship with Lena Dunham binge-watching the first five hours of Girls in one sitting. And you know what? We’re not alone in our affinity for serialized cable TV viewing; most of our friends and coworkers binge-watch too.

Why We Binge-Watch

  • Time is not equally distributed
    Unlike the sitcoms we like to consume during our binge-fests, real life does not offer an equal distribution of time. The idea of sitting down and watching a television show every night at the same time week every week, week after week is about as realistic as me vacuuming in pearls and heels. The truth is most of us only get pockets of time throughout the week so when we do get some downtime, we like to play catch up on the shows that interest us most.
  • It’s a cheap thrill
    Not only is it easier to access shows online, it’s an inexpensive form of entertainment. When was the last time you went to a see a movie in the theater? Between ticket prices and sundries, you’re looking at spending anywhere from $40 – $80 for the evening, depending on where you live. Binge-viewing, however, costs considerably less money, and you don’t have to worry about Lady McKickychair sitting behind you.
  • It’s a great escape
    One of the best ways to take your mind off daily pressures is to get lost in a fantasy world. Binge-watching is an all encompassing activity that lets you dive into a series and leave the real world behind.
  • Because we want what we want now
    If I had the option of seeing who shot J.R. immediately after it happened instead of waiting eight long months to see the “Who Done It?” episode, I would have done it in a heartbeat. Wouldn’t you?
  • Complete story emersion
    One of the best ways to get to know a set of characters is to spend an extended amount of time with them; binge-watching thrusts you into the center of a show’s universe and holds you there until you’re ready to let go.

The Effect of Binge-Watching on Your Brain

I’m not going to sugar-coat this: TV binge-watching can be bad for you. According to recent research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, watching television for lengthened periods can be bad for your heart as it is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.

The research also noted that prolonged television watching typically involves a lot of motionless sitting, which means there’s zero muscle movement. If your muscles remain inactive for long periods of time, it could cause a disruption to your metabolism.

Additionally, watching television is a passive activity that eliminates the need for critical analysis; too much television viewing can reduce higher brain activity and produce shortened attention spans. Excessive television viewing correlates with poor health, weight gain, and low energy levels.

So there you have it. It’s not great for you. Guess what? Neither is eating a fast food, drinking alcohol, or eating sweets. The key is moderation. Just as you shouldn’t inhale an entire pizza, gulp down a bottle of whiskey, and devour a Halloween-sized bag of M&Ms in one sitting, you shouldn’t overdo it on TV shows.

What are your thoughts on TV binge-watching?

Follow Emiah @EmiahGardner

Emiah has always been intrigued by the cable TV industry. She is consistently questioning how certain shows become pop culture phenomenons while others unceremoniously fail. Emiah has a deep appreciation for Andy Cohen and The Real Housewives franchise.

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