Strange things that happen to your brain when you binge-watch TV
Binge-watching Netflix feels good! We wouldn’t do it if it felt bad. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Average American watches 2.7 hours of TV per day. Why do you watch so much of it? Your brain loves it. Binge-watching TV is a drug with positive and negative consequences.
The Science of Binging
Clinical psychologist Dr. Renee Carr, Psy.D, studies addictive behaviors for a living. She says that watching an episode feels good because of the chemicals that are released in your brain. “When engaged in an activity that’s enjoyable such as binge-watching, your brain produces dopamine,” she explains. Dopamine is part of a pleasure-reward system.
The brain communicates to the body to keep watching, so you do, again and again and again. Just like a drug, TV binging can be addictive. According to Carr, “Your body does not discriminate against pleasure. It can become addicted to any activity or substance that produces dopamine.”
The Bad Side of Binging
Binging TV takes a lot of time. At some point, you have to look at the opportunity cost of the insane amounts of time you spend with your butt glued to the couch. Staring at a screen for a long time can increase stress and anxiety.
According to a study from the University of Toledo, people who binge-watch have higher rates of anxiety and depression. In your alternate TV reality, you can start to develop pseudo-relationships with the characters you watch. Your brain can actually develop “real” relationships with fake people.
It’s Not All Negative
In controlled doses, binge-watching can reduce stress. According to clinical psychologist, Dr. John Mayer says that “Binge-watching can set up a great boundary where troubles are kept at bay.” It offers a long span of time where you can unplug from the things that you worry about. Just don’t use it as a crutch for stress management!
Binge-watching can even help you perform better at your job! Dr. Renee Carr says that “Binge-watching can be healthy if your favorite character is also a virtual role model for you.” As long as you’re careful not to get addicted to the dopamine hits, bringing your favorite shows once or twice a week can be part of a healthy lifestyle. Watch with caution!