Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Feelings of loneliness and depression create lack of self-control when binge-watching Netflix, especially in young adults

College students have forever been infamous for their binge drinking and out of control drug habits. But something else is becoming incredibly common among people this age—binge-watching Netflix; but curling up with a computer to watch television may not be as harmless as it seems.

University of Texas at Austin researchers discovered a link between binge-watching Netflix and higher levels of depression and loneliness in young adults.

The term “binge-watching,” as defined by Netflix, is the practice of watching two to six episodes of the same television show in one sitting. According to another survey, half of the American population with television streaming services admits to binge-watching in some capacity. In 2013, the wildly popular online streaming service reported that a staggering 73% of users have positive feelings about this practice of binge-watching.

These positive feelings may be misplaced. In a recent study, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin actually discovered a link between binge-watching Netflix and feelings of depression and loneliness, as well as a lack of self-control.

The study, which surveyed over 300 18-29 year-olds, found that the more lonely and/or depressed someone is, the more likely he or she is to binge-watch television online. The researchers state that much like other addictive behaviors, people use Netflix as an escape from their problems.

University of Maryland Associate Professor and Director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the university, Dr. Jen Goldbeck, questions the validity of the study, not based on its methodology, but its final conclusions.

The professor also disagrees with the conclusion by the University of Texas researchers that says Netflix is a way for people to avoid social interaction.

Figure 1
A survey of University of Maryland students with the streaming service brings a different perspective of strictly college-aged participants (See Figure 1) to the University of Texas study. Note the high level of those who sometimes binge-watch and correlating amount of those sometimes feeling lonely and/or depressed. At the same time, though, notice that those who answered they often binge-watch had lower levels of loneliness and depression.

So what is the reason for the disconnect when it comes to college students?

On college campuses, the likelihood to binge-watch correlates to other behaviors that indicate a lack of self-control, like excessive drinking or drug use.

Any Netflix user knows that deciding moment: you’ve finished watching an episode of a dramatic television show and that screen pops up. That notorious screen asking if you want to watch the next episode with that enticing play button staring back at you while that timer ticks down from meager fifteen seconds pressuring you to make your decision to keep watching or not. Netflix is famous for its ability to get users to watch episode after episode, and according to research, this might be playing on certain users’ lack of self-control.

The University of Texas at Austin researchers also found that those who possessed lower levels of self-control were more likely to be unable to say no to the “Next” screen after an episode ended, even when they had other obligations.                                                                       

The lack of self-control is correlated with other addictive behaviors like binge drinking and even heavy social media use in people trying to cope with feelings of loneliness and depression.

Goldbeck says that although there may be a correlation between college binge behavior and binge-watching television, that does not mean there is a link between the two. 

Figure 2
At the University of Maryland, when asked about their drinking and Netflix patterns, there was a strong correlation between the two categories (See Figure 2). For the most part, those who demonstrated self-control when using Netflix used the same amount of control when it came to alcohol. On the same hand, those who demonstrated a lack of self-control when using Netflix also could not control themselves as well when drinking alcohol.

Many blame the college environment for its encouragement of binge behaviors.

College can be stressful to almost any student on any campus across the country. Balancing classes, a social life, and extracurricular activities, all while living on their own for the first time, is challenging for many. A university senior talks about how the environment of college life affects her schoolwork. 

According to a 2006 study of 675 second-year university students, there is a proven positive correlation between high stress levels, from things such as examination scores, with low levels of self-control.

Over half of the University of Maryland students surveyed said that the environment of college greatly affected their level of self-control when it came to binge-drinking, consuming drugs, overeating, and sleeping through obligations. 

When it comes to any type of binge behavior, whether it be binge-watching Netflix or over-drinking alcohol, a lack of self-control is at the center of the overindulgence. And when it comes to college campuses, stress, depression, and loneliness all play a role in allowing that lack of self-control to take over.