Though binge-watching—and even the way we crave television at all—is a relatively recent phenomenon, the psychology behind why we become consumed in stories is actually a tale as old as time.
“With narratives—whether it’s books, movies, or a television series—it’s about a person’s experience of being completely immersed,” explains Anjan Chatterjee, a professor of neurology at Penn Medicine, whose areas of research and expertise involve the broad field of aesthetic experiences, whether it’s being immersed in art, beauty, architectural spaces, or narratives. “Binge-watching is a very recent phenomenon, but there has been research done on immersion in literature and other kinds of narrative forms such as movies, and to some extent video games. Binge-watching, and long serial television shows would be similar to those categories of experiences.”
When watching a show or movie, or reading a book that you just can’t put down, part of that “what happens next?” feeling comes from having put yourself in the role. “You forget about yourself as you’re immersed. With good writing, you are transported away from where you are. You could be on your couch, but you lose track of the physicality of where you are when you’re transported into the story,” Chatterjee explains.
In aesthetics in general, Chatterjee says there’s a tension between a desire for novelty and a desire for familiarity, and both things happen simultaneously.
Read more at Penn Medicine News.