Binge Watching Television and the Effects On Our Brains

What are the psychological and/or neurological effects of TV watching–especially, lots of TV watching, as in binge watching?

Let’s start with the co-author of last year’s The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness, Alvaro Fernandez, who recently stated in The Huffington Post, “The only leisure activity that has been associated with reduced brain function is watching television. This has been shown, for instance, by one study which followed more than 5,000 individuals, aged 55 years and older, for 5 years.”

All I can say is Uh-oh, on behalf of myself and bunches of other people.

Not that I haven’t already known this. Even not-so-scholarly Cracked Magazine has reported serious info on the issue of TV’s rewiring of the brain. And from Tom Jacobs, Salonsome months ago: “Yes, television rots your brain: Research shows exposure to TV can impede kids’ intellectual development — even when it’s playing in the background.”

Darn. I often like it in the background when I’m doing all those crossword puzzles that sharpen my mind.

Well, okay, but that’s just about kids. What about us? Oh yeah. Back to adult-studier Fernandez in the first paragraph above—TV reduces our brain function. Guess it slipped my mind.

I’m going to guess binge watching is kinda bad too? Especially for younger folks?

A humorous take on one mom’s worry about her son’s possible addiction:

Psychologist Jonathan Fader, Psychology Today, does in fact want us to be careful regarding all this continuous binge viewing, though he also says, “In most cases, and when done in moderation, Binge Watching can be a way to bond and enjoy long-form story telling with the people you love.” (Can doing anything binge-style by definition be moderate?) (Do we really have to capitalize this pop phenomenon?) (Don’t tell me it’s in that new DSM I haven’t yet read?)

Fader’s suggested self-quiz:

1. Has your TV Binging caused you any significant impairment or distress?

2. Has it made you late for work?

3. Caused you to lose sleep?

4. Caused arguments?

5. Is there time to discuss the show with your loved ones?

6. How frequently do you eat while you watch?

As is the usual, yeses are causes for concern.

Neuroscience student Jordan Gaines Lewis explains in a Psychology Today post, on the other hand, that binge watching is something we’re actually wired to do. She reports that cultural anthropologist Grant McCracken found “that 76 percent [of Netflixers] reported bingeing as a welcome refuge from their busy lives, and nearly 8 in 10 agreed that binge-watching a TV show was more enjoyable than watching single episodes.” She adds, “McCracken concluded that we’re actually craving the long narratives that today’s best television series can provide.”

Not only that. TV watching also decreases feelings of loneliness and rejection, some have reported. Obviously a very good thing.

So what will it be for you? A half hour or hour of TV here and there accompanied by better brain function? Or hours on end of solidly entertaining loneliness-reducing bingeing resulting in maybe a few less brain cells?

Do you still have enough brain cells to formulate an answer? (Just say yes.) Then I’d say keep doing whatever it is you’re doing if that’s what works for you.

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