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How binge-watching is linked to self-control

A new study shows that a lot of self-control is involved in binge-watching, which is commonly considered impulsive behaviour

A new study showed that people prefer to binge-watch certain types of programming. (Pexels)
A new study showed that people prefer to binge-watch certain types of programming. (Pexels)

Binge-watching is a common activity today, with a press of a button rolling out a new episode of a TV show or a film. While it feels good at the moment, the next day is usually spent feeling guilty about having no control. However, new research shows that, interestingly, a lot of self-control is involved in what is commonly considered impulsive behaviour.

The study, in collaboration with the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University and the Fox School of Business at Temple University, contrary to public perception involves planning and is less impulsive. The findings revealed that people prefer to binge-watch certain types of programming. They are also more likely to pay to watch shows consecutively and/or wait to watch more than one episode at a time, according to a press statement by UC San Diego.

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Uma Karmarkar, assistant professor of marketing and innovation at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management and School of Global Policy and Strategy said in the statement that binge-watching can have a negative connotation, like binge eating or binge drinking and is seen as impulsive and very indulgent. “However, media consumption is more complex. Binge-watching is not always about a failure of self-control; it can also be a thoughtful preference and planned behaviour.”

The study found that people tend to plan to binge shows that they consider more sequential and connected, such as Bridgerton, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Stranger Things.

These findings can have important implications for online education. A separate experiment as part of the study showed that people are more likely to plan to binge-learn a Coursera class if it is considered more sequential. Moreover, when the authors analysed real-world data from the Coursera platform, it revealed these plans to binge-learn accurately predicted viewing behaviour in enrolled students, according to the statement. 

Previous research had found that people often prefer to savour good experiences by delaying them and deriving additional pleasure from anticipation or indulging over time, which might be conflicting. However, the authors of this study suggest that the previous research mostly involved experiences, such as going out to eat or on vacations, which according to them fall would be “less bingeable” and hence, there is no conflict between the two findings.

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