A Blog by Jonathan Low


Oct 11, 2016

The Science Driving TV Binge Watching

Our physiological needs (dopamine! seratonin!)are being manipulated by writers who build that knowledge into their dramatic strategies. And it's working. JL

Melissa Fraistat reports in Penn State University's Science In Our World:

Due to the neurological reasons why we binge-watch, writers write episodes that we will watch more than one at a time. Writers create by filling episodes with a lot of action, high levels of intrigue, building storylines and ending with plot twists. Although scientifically our brain has reasons for binge-watching, television show creators have manipulated their strategies to further our need for binge-watching.
As you may expect, I am one of the numerous people who has spent endless hours watching Netflix. From watching countless episodes of a show until 2:00 a.m., to ignoring plans to watch a show, I have experienced my fair share of the affects of Netflix binge-watching. Due to this, I decided to research the science behind this, because I truly hope there is a justifiable reason as to why I watched all 121 episodes of Lost in ten days, and all 125 episodes of Parks and Recreation in a mere two weeks.
Apparently, there are various reasons behind the science of binge-watching. According to ThriveWire Contributor, one reason is due to the fact that we perceive watching television as a task. Naturally, as we finish a task, our body releases dopamine. Dopamine is the control center for rewards, so we innately want more of this. One way of receiving more dopamine while still watching Netflix is to finish the series of that show. In another discovery, it was also found that during the night, bright lights increase our serotonin levels (Thrive Wire Contributor 2015). Serotonin is a mood stabilizer, so again, naturally, our bodies want more of this. This would explain why so many of us binge well into the night, opposed to binging during the daytime. Going off of this, in a recent pop quiz, we learned that light during the night led to signs of depression in hamsters. One question on the quiz asked if people should avoid light at night too, causing different opinions among people in the class. Although the general consensus was that we should in fact turn off the light to avoid these signs too, maybe we shouldn’t if this light increases our levels of serotonin.
Moving on, due to recent realizations of the neurological reasons as to why we binge-watch, writers have taken this into account and have written episodes with the knowledge that we will most likely watch/want to watch more than one episode at a time. In other words, writers create episodes similar to how a book would be considered a page turner. They do this by filling episodes with a lot of action, high levels of intrigue, building storylines, and ending with plot twists (Holloway 2015). Here it is clear that although scientifically our brain has reasons for binge-watching, television show creators have manipulated their strategies to even further our need/want for binge-watching.
Even though at 2:00 a.m. it may seem impossible to stop watching a show, there are some helpful ways to break your habit. For example, doing something unrelated to Netflix such as simply talking to someone, or going on your phone can help create context to real-life, opposed to life in the world of the show you are watching (ThriveWire Contributor 2015). Another tip is in relation to the recent popularity of cliffhanger endings. Michael Hsu suggests that you watch only a part of the next episode to clear up and gather answers to the previous episode. From only watching part of the next episode, you are able to get answers before getting dragged into another storyline.
In conclusion, there are in fact neurological reasons as to why we binge-watch Netflix, so there’s no need to feel bad about yourself the next time you’re up late at night unable to stop watching a show. If in fact you do feel bad though, there are still ways to help stop your binge, so don’t worry too much. 
Learn The Science Behind Why Our Brains Love Binge-Watching On Netflix


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