"Binge Watching" and Impact on the Brain

Scott Bea, PsyD, of Cleveland Clinic, said the reason we like to 'binge-watch' our favorite shows is because it can actually provide our brains with a feel-good high.

Posted: Jan 18, 2018 10:15 PM
Updated: Jan 19, 2018 7:07 AM

CLEVELAND CLINIC NEWS NETWORK - Years ago, the idea of taking an entire day to sit on the couch and watch an entire season of a television show would sound crazy, but with today's technology, it's pretty common.

Scott Bea, PsyD, of Cleveland Clinic, said the reason we like to 'binge-watch' our favorite shows is because it can actually provide our brains with a feel-good high.

"Our brain likes the chemical that's released it's called dopamine," said Dr. Bea. "It's the feel-good chemical. Most pleasant activities release this brain chemical and these streaming shows can keep it alive. People can watch an entire season pretty quickly these days."

Dr. Bea said when we're upset by our own thoughts, we often use television shows to help pull us outside of that self-awareness.

And where we used to have to wait a week to see the resolution to last week's cliffhanger, now we can get instant gratification in just seconds.

That said, Dr. Bea believes there is a let-down when it's all said and done.

"If it was pleasurable and exhilarating and fun, now we're kind of down, depressed, a little tired or fatigued and worn out," he said. "All those things it was doing for us, we tend to get the opposite effect, so we want to repeat it again and find another series or another show that's going to do the same thing for our brain."

Dr. Bea said there's no real harm in binge-watching a series, but it's important to do all things in moderation.

He said if we're doing it as a group activity or as a couple for fun it's fine, but if it's getting in the way of physical and social activities and causing us to become isolated, it's time for a break.

To avoid this pitfall, Dr. Bea said it's good to set some ground rules before clicking 'play.'

"It's good to have limits before you start," he said. "If you say, 'I'm only going to watch this many episodes,' or 'I'm going to stop halfway through this episode so that I don't reach the cliffhanger, but I'm interested in coming back to it at some point,' - really having rules before you start, like anything, is pretty smart."

Dr. Bea said it can be fun to mentally step away from real life sometimes, but it's unhealthy to use television as a coping strategy.

"If it's getting in the way of other fun activities physical activities, social activities then it actually may be harming people," he said. "Some people will use it as a coping strategy for difficult states like stress, anxiety, and depression. This becomes almost, like a medication for it, but it's not treating the problem directly."

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