Personality dictates binge-watching: Study reveals why we can't stop streaming

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A recent Acta Psychologica study investigates the role of personality traits on over-the-top (OTT) service use and binge-watching.

Study: The effect of personality traits on over-the-top service use and binge-watching. Image Credit: SeventyFour / Shutterstock.com Study: The effect of personality traits on over-the-top service use and binge-watching. Image Credit: SeventyFour / Shutterstock.com

The phenomenon of binge-watching and OTT services

A global increase in the use of OTT media services, such as Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and Netflix, has been documented. In the United States, approximately 80% of the population has at least one streaming service subscription, thus demonstrating widespread consumer interest in OTT content.

Binge-watching describes watching multiple episodes of a television series in a single sitting. Since the inception of OTT platforms, about 75% of consumers have binge-watched at least some content. Although OTT use and binge-watching have become a widespread phenomenon, few studies have investigated the psychological characteristics associated with an individual's binge-watching trait.

Every person is inherently different in their technology-related interests. Therefore, differential OTT use and binge-watching patterns are, to a certain extent, linked to personality traits like cognition, emotion, and behaviors. These personality traits are robustly associated with environmental and biological factors. 

Since a significant portion of the global population is shifting towards OTT services, it is important to understand the psychological background behind OTT use and binge-watching. 

About the study

The current study evaluated the Big Five personality traits, which include emotional stability, openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness. An individual's need for cognition, which refers to their willingness to be involved in effortful and thoughtful activities, was also assessed.

The study's key objective was to document evidence that personality traits and need for cognition are associated with OTT use and binge-watching. The researchers also investigated whether daily and non-daily OTT use influence the association between personality traits and binge-watching.

A diverse and large cohort that resembled the Korean population was used for the analysis. Relevant data were provided by the Korean Information Society Development Institute.

The average age of the cohort was 52.5 years, 54.9% of whom were female. All study participants had either an undergraduate or high school degree, and most of the cohort was married.

Study findings

Personality traits were found to significantly impact OTT use and binge-watching to some extent. However, binge-watching was not significantly associated with other physiological variables. 

OTT use significantly correlated with age and education. Moreover, individual-level differences in personality traits influenced OTT use somewhat, with the effect size ranging between 10-30%.

The probability of using OTT services depends on an individual's openness to experience and need for cognition. Since openness to experience is characterized by one's inclination to experience and adopt new ideas, this trait could be associated with one's willingness to watch different OTT content on different platforms. 

The need for cognition was also positively correlated with OTT use. This could be because individuals inherently gravitate towards cognitively challenging materials, such as original series with convoluted plots and documentaries. Importantly, additional studies are needed to confirm this observation.

A negative correlation was observed between binge-watching and an individual's emotional stability, conscientiousness, openness to experience, and need for cognition. A similar trend was observed for daily OTT users, even when the sample was stratified by OTT frequency. In addition to the need for cognition, personality traits showed no effect on binge-watching for non-daily OTT users.

Extraversion was negatively correlated with OTT use, possibly due to the lack of preference for being alone to watch OTT content. However, these individuals might be prompted to watch for socialization purposes. This resulted in a conflicting association between extroverts and OTT use.

A similar neutralizing trend was observed between conscientiousness and OTT use. Conscientious people exhibited better self-control and were less prone to distraction and impulsivity.

Previous studies have shown that binge-watching could be an ideal way to cope with emotional distress, such as frustration, anxiety, and anger. Emotionally stable individuals are less inclined to binge-watch OTT content, as they do not require binge-watching as an escape route. 

Individuals with low emotional stability and conscientiousness tend to prefer animation, cartoons, and cult classics. However, those with a higher need for cognition prefer content linked to political and social issues.

Conclusions

The current study revealed that personality traits, particularly openness to experience, positively influence binge-watching for addictive OTT users. This observation has practical implications for businesses associated with OTT services.

A better understanding of personality traits that influence binge-watching tendencies could be used to develop content tailored for certain consumers. Furthermore, policies and regulations could also be developed to prevent the adverse effects for daily OTT consumers with binge-watching tendencies. 

Journal reference:
  • Lee, J., Shokparova, A., Asrymbetova, Z., et al. (2024) The effect of personality traits on over-the-top service use and binge-watching. Acta Psychologica. 245, 104234. doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2024.104234
Dr. Priyom Bose

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Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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