OK… I admit it… I am a Netflix addict.
And I am not alone. You’ve probably faced the same situation as me when, after watching one too many episodes of your current addiction, Netflix politely asks you if you are still watching. The answer is clearly yes! By releasing a series all in one go, Netflix (along with others) have provided us with a new way of watching television. We no longer have to wait a week to find out what has happened to our favourite characters and with Netflix, we don’t even have to push a button for the next episode to begin.
I recently took the plunge and purchased my own subscription to Netflix (having previously used my brother’s account). This new found freedom has made me into a bit of a binger. But why, when I get to the end of an episode, do I think I must watch the next episode immediately (most recently on the successful Making A Murderer docu-series)?
There must be a scientific explanation!
Finishing an episode can cause the release of dopamine – the pleasure hormone. By completing an episode, we are achieving something because we are able to tick it off of our list. You may not consider it an achievement to watch something, especially with binge-watching, but ask yourself this – have you ever boasted to a friend about binge-watching or completing a series? Probably yes. The dopamine release that we experience makes us want to continue watching in order to achieve another hit of dopamine when the next episode finishes. Dopamine is the hormone of addiction.
Furthermore, successful series tend to end each episode on a cliffhanger and end the series on an even bigger cliffhanger. Cliffhangers elicit a stress response and this is crucial in keeping us hooked. In response to stress, the body releases the hormone Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) causing the release of other stress related hormones and triggering a fight or flight response. This can make us less sleepy and so more inclined to watch more even if it is later than you would like.
One final thought… Netflix episodes tend to be odd time lengths – 20 minutes, 40 minutes etc. So if you decide to take a 30-minute break to watch something you may feel more inclined to watch that second episode because you haven’t fully used your allotted break time. Instead, you end up watching two episodes for 40 mins (if not more) and going over your scheduled break. So, instead of deciding how long to spend on Netflix, it might be better to decide how many episodes to watch.
All in all, the release of an entire series in one go is designed to make you hooked. I don’t think there is any shame in the occasional binge watch, just perhaps not when you have other, more important, things to do.