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Higher stress levels tied to TV binge-watching

UT study cites risk to health

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Monita Karmakar, a co-author of the University of Toledo research study, shows Hulu and Netflix on her computer at the Center for Health and Successful Living office at UT.

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Couch potatoes prone to marathon Netflix sessions should press pause on House of Cards and tune in to a new study from University of Toledo researchers.

A team found a link between binge-watching hours of television and higher levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. The findings are based on an online survey of 406 adults and were presented at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting last week in Chicago.

Thirty-five percent of survey-takers identified themselves as binge watchers, which most respondents defined as watching two to five hours of consecutive video.

The study determined binge-watching is a public-health concern. The ability to watch episode after episode of a TV show on Internet-streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu instead of waiting for the latest installment to air has popularized the practice in recent years.

“Those who binge watch are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and stressed out,” said Monita Karmakar, a UT graduate student pursuing a doctorate in health education who co-wrote the study with three others.

Binge watchers scored significantly higher on a depression-assessment scale of zero to 21, with an average score of 7.6 compared with nonbingers, who averaged a score of 3.98, Ms. Karmakar said.

More research is needed to determine the cause.

“We do not know whether depression is causing them to binge watch, or is it binge-watching which is causing the depression? Or, is it just a whole spiraling … cycle of events where you are depressed already, and you’re binge-watching and that is leading to more depression,” she said.

The project explored a largely untapped but timely field of study as binge-watching grows more popular. The term “binge watch” was recently chosen by Collins dictionary as its 2015 Word of the Year.

“It kind of falls within the larger context of … how modern-day computer and media technology influence our everyday lives,” said Jon Elhai, a UT psychology professor who oversaw the project. “It’s kind of a modern affliction.”

Inspiration for the study struck Ms. Karmakar after she spoke with a friend about their TV habits. She lists Sherlock and Doctor Who among her favorite programs and has a weakness for Lost, a long-running drama that ended in 2010. She rewatches the show every summer.

She’s continuing her research by investigating the viewing patterns of college students like Alyssa Trass, a UT senior from Dayton studying public health. Ms. Trass, who was not a survey participant, binge-watches TV shows, a prevalent pastime with among her peers. Her particular addiction is the soapy series One Tree Hill. She’s watched all nine seasons multiple times.

She can watch four episodes on a weekday, keeping an eye on the screen as she cooks or completes other tasks. On a weekend when she doesn’t have much going on, she easily can watch a dozen episodes.

Ms. Trass said it wasn’t until she started college that she became engrossed in Netflix, which she sometimes uses as a way to procrastinate instead of writing papers.

“I know it’s not good, but I’m going to keep watching One Tree Hill,” she said.

The binge-watch study gave Ms. Karmakar a fresh perspective on her own screen-time habits. “TV watching is a great source to kind of unwind. It’s a great way to kind of take your mind off things that have been happening,” she said.

But, she cautioned, “Everything in excess is bad.”

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.

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