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A Theoretical Look at Binge-Watching

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

By Alyssa Diaz

Photo Credit to Pexels

Binge-watching has been a cultural phenomenon since streaming services like Netflix allowed viewers everywhere to watch multiple episodes of a show for hours straight, free of commercials and without the need to lift a finger to press “next episode.”

Once the season is over, however, viewers are often left with feelings they don’t know how to deal with, or an inability to disconnect their lives from the fictional world they’ve just come out of.

Understanding the emotional and mental implications of binge-watching through communication theories can help students figure out how to leave the TV at home and move on from the shows they leave behind.

A 2021 survey conducted by a customer engagement company named Sykes revealed that this issue has been most prevalent during the pandemic. Almost 71 percent of respondents admitted to subscribing to new streaming services and 49.3 percent got a new TV. Additionally, most respondents watched 45 days' worth of streaming content that year.

According to Foundry Treatment Center, researchers from the University of Texas discovered a strong link between bingewatching, depression, sleep deprivation, and mental health. This is because our brains get connected to fictional characters and we end up carrying their emotional baggage into our everyday lives.

For example, sophomore television and digital media major, Brianna Torres, said that she experiences paranoia after watching a crime show.

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“After binging ‘Criminal Minds,’ I was very emotionally paranoid about the way everything was in the outside world,” said Torres. “It caused me to build a social wall to be careful with others.”

With her knowledge of cultivation theory, Torres was able to understand that the shows she was watching made her behave differently than before she binged them.

According to Britannica, cultivation theory suggests that individuals who spend time with the media mimic what they are seeing on their TV.

Uses and gratifications is another communication theory that investigates how consumers view media.

"Users” employ the media to achieve certain goals -- goals like keeping up with their favorite actor’s Instagram profile to influence their everyday decisions.

The other part of this theory is understanding why individuals use particular sources of media and what gratifications they obtain from the use of that media. Isabella Tusa, a sophomore majoring in television and digital media, believes students should think actively about their binge-watching habits.

“It’s important to be aware of your state of mind if you watch a continuous amount of TV,” said Tusa. “I think that people try to find an escape but sometimes it gets out of hand.”

Photo Credit to Pexels

Even the most sophisticated media consumers fall prey to these habits.

"My husband and I couldn’t stop watching ‘Ozark’!” said Dr. Mariely Valentin-Llopis, assistant professor of communication.

She teaches these concepts and believes that part of the problem of binging comes from the constant accessibility of streaming services.

“[Binge-watching is] a trend that is perpetuated or promoted primarily because of the streaming service business model,” said Llopis. “There are no commercial breaks and when they release the entire series at once, you can binge watch for six to eight hours, and you're left looking for the next thing to binge on.”

Despite the fun it may be, students should be mindful of how much television they consume. Next time you find a series you are obsessed with, limit yourself to one episode per day to keep your brain in shape!

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