Which came first – the loneliness and depression caused by binge-watching television, or watching television because you’re lonely and depressed?
Researchers think they pinpointed the answer to the vicious cycle (below) – and I think they are only partially correct.
Literal years of people’s lives have been offered up on the altar of television. The glowing, flickering idol and a self-contained evolving scripture using imagery that speaks to the subconscious. If only we had known as the years ticked by, that it was not only a time parasite but an emotional parasite too. For all the people who like to detect psychic vampirism in others, look no further than the fabricated characters in the screen that preach dogmatic sermons from their scripted gospel.
Unbeknownst to many, they are seeking a brain high or an emotional high to temporarily feel less alone and depressed, and when there’s an artificial high, soon there is a low.
The researchers below essentially blame the already depressed and lonely person on their behavior and lack of self-regulation for addictive binge-watching. They didn’t exactly check to see if a lifetime of watching TV may have created such despair. And no, the binge-behavior is not new like they claim – television was utilized for such purposes or it wouldn’t be a part of its very design. Some of us are in the third or fourth generation of TV addicts. While pointing to the lack of self-control, they are also admitting the addictive nature of watching TV and its ability to allow someone to temporarily escape painful emotions. It does serve that purpose, but…
While they blame the behavior of binge-watching, they don’t factor in that television influences behavior. They don’t factor in that TV was designed to offer a “fix” both with the physical act of watching it (tuning in) and the emotional involvement. “The more lonely and depressed you are, the more likely you are to binge-watch,” they say. Okay, that’s a valid association, but what if it’s the other way around?
TV has an unseen flicker rate that lulls a person into a relaxed brain-wave state which also increases suggestibility. It’s even more insidious on children who already operate in an open, absorbable brain wave. But that’s not all, the other relaxing – or should I say “rewarding” – factor is a shot of neurotransmitter dopamine to the prefrontal cortex of the brain. It’s a temporary high that can induce stress and irritability when it drops again, causing the addict to “hit the lever” for more. Know what else causes artificial shots of dopamine? Cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, sugar, refined grains, binge-eating, porn, adrenaline-rush activities, gambling – pretty much anything that has its own 12-step program – see what I’m saying? (Is it really just a habit or an addiction?)
So while we can’t necessarily blame the box or the drug, does it really make sense to blame the “addict”? The researchers who are presenting to the International Communication Association, probably have a need to focus on the behavior and not say “look how television drives this behavior.”
My hope is that the association that the researchers found will lend compassion and more help for a person locked in this cycle. Unfortunately, it sounds like another unwitting way to categorize people into more mental health illnesses. My research so far, has led me to connect dots that point to dopamine dysfunction as more of a biological case of nutritional deficiency combined with heavy metal/chemical toxicity, and early trauma – not a character or moral defect. And not a lack of self-control, but one of the causes of lacking self-control/regulation.
Some sites passed off the press release below as though to say that TV causes loneliness and depression, but that’s not what the researchers are saying, despite what the title says. That’s what I’m saying. That’s also what Internet guru Clay Shirky (the “cognitive surplus” guy) says.
Shirky says that when lonely people watch TV, they report feeling less lonely, even though their passivity and the one-way nature of the experience makes them even more alone.
Think about the last time you became emotionally involved with characters or surrendered your attention to talking heads. Did you feel better or worse afterward? Did the highs and lows of emotionalism and dopamine spikes relieve stress or create it?
Feelings of loneliness and depression linked to binge-watching television
Low self-regulation leads to more binge-watching
It seems harmless: getting settled in for a night of marathon session for a favorite TV show, like House of Cards. But why do we binge-watch TV, and can it really be harmless?
A recent study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that the more lonely and depressed you are, the more likely you are to binge-watch.
Yoon Hi Sung, Eun Yeon Kang and Wei-Na Lee from the University of Texas at Austin will present their findings at the 65th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The researchers conducted a survey on 316 18- to 29-year-olds on how often they watched TV; how often they had feelings of loneliness, depression and self-regulation deficiency; and finally on how often they binge-watched TV. They found that the more lonely and depressed the study participants were, the more likely they were to binge-watch TV, using this activity to move away from negative feelings.
The findings also showed that those who lacked the ability to control themselves were more likely to binge-watch. These viewers were unable to stop clicking “Next” even when they were aware that they had other tasks to complete.
Little empirical research has been done on binge-watching since it is such a new behavior. Psychological factors such as loneliness, depression, and self-regulation deficiency have been known as important indicators of binge behavior in general. For example, people engage in addictive behaviors to temporarily forget the reality that involves loneliness and depression. Also, an individual’s lack of self-regulation is likely to influence the level of his or her addictive behavior. Therefore, this study tried to understand binge-watching behavior from this set of known factors.
“Even though some people argue that binge-watching is a harmless addiction, findings from our study suggest that binge-watching should no longer be viewed this way,” Sung said. “Physical fatigue and problems such as obesity and other health problems are related to binge-watching and they are a cause for concern. When binge-watching becomes rampant, viewers may start to neglect their work and their relationships with others. Even though people know they should not, they have difficulty resisting the desire to watch episodes continuously. Our research is a step toward exploring binge-watching as an important media and social phenomenon.”
“A Bad Habit for Your Health? An Exploration of Psychological Factors for Binge-Watching Behavior,” by Yoon Hi Sung, Eun Yeon Kang and Wei-Na Lee; to be presented at the 65th Annual International Communication Association Conference, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 21-25 May 2015.