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UC research: Binge-watching might actually be good for you

Joe Smith (not his real name) cheated on his wife. Up late one night alone, he watched half a season of “Game of Thrones” without her. Not cool, Joe.

Turns out Joe is not alone, though. In a recent Netflix survey, 46 percent of all respondents admit to such infidelity. Worse, 81 percent admit to being repeat offenders, and 45 percent never confess their betrayal at all.

This new media “cheating” among streaming couples — watching an episode of a Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu or other series ahead of one’s partner — is in fact three times more prevalent now than when Netflix first analyzed the concept four years ago. This coincides with the growth in binge-watching — viewing an entire season of, say, “House of Cards,” in one sitting.

Relationship issues aside, what benefits, if any, does binge-watching offer? Is it really just a waste of valuable time? According to UC Santa Barbara communication professor Robin Nabi, people are fascinated by a drama-filled series — from “Orange Is the New Black” to “Downtown Abbey” — and use them to escape daily stresses through what she described as “narrative transportation,” in which they engage in a story world that seems “real.”

“Typically, these shows are far more dramatic than our daily lives and the combination of the plot, the acting and the music — all that combines to create this very strong emotional experience,” said Nabi, whose research focuses on the interplay between emotion and the effects of mediated messages. “And emotional experiences keep our attention and we engage with them. We think about them. We talk about them. And then we look forward to having those emotions again.”

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