Mental health studies are always tricky business. How do you sort a pre-existing condition from an actual result? Many don’t, which is why, say, studies about video games are almost all garbage. And thus, this is why you should take the new study saying binge-watching is depressing us all with some rather large grains of salt.
The crux of the study from a team at the University of Toledo, and first reported in November, is that the binge-watchers in the study, roughly a third of the 408 participants, reported higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression than non-binge-watchers. It concludes:
Literature shows that TV viewing (especially screen time) is associated with poor mental and physical health outcomes. With the advent of novel media for viewing television, “binge-watching” is a growing public health concern that needs to be addressed.
As always, this conclusion gets shredded by Occam’s Razor. If we’re taking this study at face value, wouldn’t it make sense that people who are already anxious, depressed, or stressed would turn to binge watching? That’s generally a class of people looking to escape their emotional problems for a few hours. But that’s not the only problem!
The main issue is that this study recruited its participants entirely from Mechanical Turk, and had them fill out a survey. In other words, it’s a study built entirely on self-reporting, and self-reporting is garbage. There’s simply no way to know the full history of whoever took the survey, beyond what they claim.
Now, should you plant your butt on the couch and watch the entirety of, say, Flaked tomorrow? Probably not! But it’s fairly safe to say that your viewing habits aren’t a public health concern.