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Although the concept of escapism is widely used in entertainment research, it lacks theoretical and empirical differentiation. Based on the transactional model of stress and coping (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), we extend previous attempts to conceptualize escapism as a form of emotion-focused avoidance coping. In contrast to the primarily negative connotation of escapism found in prior research, we propose that escapist entertainment use may be a functional coping strategy in some situations and may thus have beneficial effects on the well-being of media users. To develop and illustrate our perspective, we turn to binge-watching as a prominent example of escapist entertainment use. We show exemplarily how escapist binge-watching can contribute to recovery from stress and close our chapter with reflections on how to further develop escapism research.
Binge-Watching as Case of Escapist Entertainment Use
Annabell Halfmann1 & Leonard Reinecke2
1University of Mannheim, Germany, Institute for Media and Communication Studies
2Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany, Department of Communication
This is a draft of a chapter that has been accepted for publication by Oxford University Press
in the forthcoming book The Oxford Handbook of Entertainment Theory, edited by Peter
Vorderer & Christoph Klimmt and due for publication in 2020.
Corresponding author:
Annabell Halfmann, University of Mannheim, Institute for Media and Communication
Studies; phone: +49621181-3937; fax: +49621181-3939; e-mail: halfmann@uni-
Although the concept of escapism is widely used in entertainment research, it lacks
theoretical and empirical differentiation. Based on the transactional model of stress and
coping (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984), we extend previous attempts to conceptualize escapism
as a form of emotion-focused avoidance coping. In contrast to the primarily negative
connotation of escapism found in prior research, we propose that escapist entertainment use
may be a functional coping strategy in some situations and may thus have beneficial effects
on the well-being of media users. To develop and illustrate our perspective, we turn to binge-
watching as a prominent example of escapist entertainment use. We show exemplarily how
escapist binge-watching can contribute to recovery from stress and close our chapter with
reflections on how to further develop escapism research.
Keywords: escapism, coping, entertainment use, binge-watching, recovery, well-being
Binge-Watching as Case of Escapist Entertainment Use
The idea that individuals use media to escape from the restrictions and frustrations of
everyday life is one of the oldest in media uses and effects research (e.g., Pearlin, 1959). In
1962, Katz and Foulkes pointed out that people feel alienated, that is, meaningless and
socially isolated, which “produces the desire to escape, a desire which the mass media are
presumed to be instrumental in satisfying(p. 380). Traditionally, “lightentertainment, such
as soap operas, romantic comedies, and other formats representing harmony and beauty, has
been most strongly suspected of evoking escapist media use (Klapper, 1949). Since these first
reflections on mass media and escapism, the scope and the availability of entertainment
programs have increased significantly. For example, video-on-demand-services (VOD) like
Netflix and Amazon Prime have become an important source of entertainment media use.
Whereas a few years ago, users had to wait for the next episode of their favorite series to air
on linear TV, today, thanks to the Internet and VOD, they can watch almost everything
whenever and wherever they want. These technological developments offer almost unlimited
opportunities for entertainment. Also today, sociologists describe society as alienated and
media as widespread tool for escape. Rosa (2016), for example, argued that individuals try
hard to avoid states of alienation, which would lead to behavioral tendencies like directly
switching on the television or reaching for communication devices when individuals are alone
and free of obligation for a short period of time (see also Vorderer, this volume).
One prominent example of escape through media, we will argue in this chapter, is
binge-watching, which denotes the practice of watching multiple episodes of a series in one
sitting (Pittman & Sheehan, 2015). The permanent availability of entertainment content via
VOD enables and fosters this usage behavior. According to data from Netflix (2018), more
than 90% of members have binge-watched a show on Netflix within a year of joining. Binge-
watching seems to be both a blessing and a curse: It may, for example, increase users
autonomy and recovery experiences, while at the same time leading to goal conflicts and
thereby to guilt reactions and reduced recovery (Granow, Reinecke, & Ziegele, 2018).
Although the concept of escapism is widely used in entertainment research, it lacks
theoretical and empirical differentiation. Firstly, no specific theoretical framework has been
developed yet. Only few studies have specifically focused on escapist entertainment use (e.g.,
Henning & Vorderer, 2001; Knobloch-Westerwick, Hastall, & Rossmann, 2009; Kubey &
Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Most studies that address escapist media use describe the concept
from the perspective of the uses-and-gratifications approach (Rubin, 2008), however, without
providing further explanation of the motivation for and the effects of escapism (e.g., Shade,
Kornfield, & Oliver, 2015; Smock, Ellison, Lampe, & Wohn, 2011). Secondly, there is no
consensus on the definition and measurement of escapist entertainment use (e.g., Katz &
Foulkes, 1962; Knobloch-Westerwick et al., 2009). Finally, the consequences of escapist
entertainment use have not yet been fully researched. It is conspicuous that most studies focus
on negative effects, suggesting, for example, that escapist media use facilitates the
development of problematic media usage behaviors or even addiction (e.g., Masur, Reinecke,
Ziegele, & Quiring, 2014; Yee, 2006). However, as the above-described findings on the
effects of binge-watching on recovery suggest, escapist entertainment use might have
beneficial effects on the well-being of media users as well. Similarly, Klimmt (2008) noted
that escapism may facilitate individualswell-being because it can serve as a “vacation” from
real-life stressors.
Due to these limitations of previous research, this chapter will offer a theoretical
explication of the escapism concept. To this end, we will first provide an overview on the role
of escapism in entertainment research from the late 1940s onwards and subsequently discuss
current conceptualizations of escapist entertainment use. We will then explain the
psychological processes underlying escapist entertainment use as well as the conditions under
which escapist entertainment use may have beneficial effects through the theoretical lens of
coping (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). We will illustrate our explanations using the example of
binge-watching. Finally, we will argue that escapist binge-watching may enhance recovery
experiences and conclude this chapter with thoughts on ways to advance escapism research.
A Brief History of Escapism in Entertainment Research
From the late 1940s until the 1960s, the growing popularity of radio and television
programs that appeared to be solely entertaining—such as soap operas (Klapper, 1949)—
inspired early discussions about escapism. Communication scholars reached the conclusion
that individuals are interested in these programs due to the desire to escape deprived and
alienated living conditions. In the following, we describe how researchersfocus regarding the
motivation to escape and effects of escapist entertainment use has changed since then. We also
elucidate which theoretical approaches underlie research on escapist media use.
Motivation to Escape Through Entertainment
Early work in the 1950s and 1960s tended to view escapism from a sociopolitical
perspective, analyzing the dysfunctions of societies that trigger a need for escape. Pearlin
(1959) argued that individuals experience social strains due to role conflicts or discrepancies
between the real and the ideal self and that watching television represents an accepted practice
of coping with the resulting stress. Katz and Foulkes (1962) regarded alienation as the main
driver of escapist entertainment use. Empirical findings on these social causes of escapist
entertainment use, however, are relatively weak and inconsistent. Some studies supported the
notion that social deprivation, such as feelings of isolation, is associated with increased
television viewing (e.g., Maccoby, 1954; Olsen, 1960). Others, however, showed mixed
results: whereas in a study by Rubin (1985), life satisfaction was unrelated to the amount of
television viewing, Morgan (1984) found a significant relationship between viewing amount
and perceived quality of life. Results from Schulz (1997) revealed a very weak relationship
between a pessimistic attitude to life and the amount of time watching television. Most
importantly, however, a relationship between social dissatisfactions and the amount of
entertainment use does not necessarily mean that individuals follow escapist motives or
actually experience escapism during media exposure (Katz & Foulkes, 1962).
Furthermore, early entertainment and literary studies tended to view escapist
entertainment use as a lower class phenomenon (e.g., Maccoby, 1954). For example,
Dahrendorf (1973) assumed that alienation and deprivation cause a desire to escape in
members of “underprivilegedsections of society, and that individuals satisfy this need by
reading light fiction in a purely passive, enjoyable way. However, Groeben and Vorderer
(1988) questioned the postulate of class-specific escapism by referring to research on life
satisfaction. The authors pointed out that the connection between objective living conditions
and subjective well-being is not as clear as often assumed and concluded that belonging to the
lower class does not necessarily lead to escapist reading.
Entertainment researchers then moved their focus from the social setting of individuals
toward psychological states. Whereas researchers had originally regarded deprivation and
alienation as main drivers of escapist entertainment use, this shift of attention enabled them to
consider a larger number of motivational origins. Kubey (1986) argued that the desire to
escape results from the fact that individuals experience unpleasant thoughts or feelings during
idle periods, if they feel “alienated from self(p. 116). Henning and Vorderer (2001)
expanded this explanation by assuming that disliking of thinking in general triggers escapist
media use. The authors compared this psychological explanation with potential sociological
reasons for escapist media use, such as reduced life satisfaction. Their results, however, only
supported the former as predictor of television use. According to the authors, this proves the
usefulness of adding a psychological component to the originally sociologically founded
concept of escapism. Indeed, a number of further studies revealed that psychological states
like anxiety, poor self-esteem, and lack of autonomy trigger escapist media use (e.g., Conway
& Rubin, 1991; Finn & Gorr, 1988; Masur et al., 2014).
Effects of Escapist Entertainment Use
Communication scholars have been interested in the consequences of escapist
entertainment use ever since escapism was introduced to explain individualsinterest in
entertainment. However, their focus has changed over the years. This relates to both the target
and valence of effects. Concerning the target, early work on escapism analyzed negative ways
in which escapist entertainment use affects society. Examples are reduced political
participation, impaired performance of social roles, and relationship problems (Katz
& Foulkes, 1962). Researchers then became more interested in the consequences of escapist
media use for individuals. Both short-term effects like psychological distress and negative
affect (Hagström & Kaldo, 2014; Stenseng, Rise, & Kraft, 2012) and long-term effects, such
as reduced life satisfaction and general well-being (Hagström & Kaldo, 2014; Kaczmarek &
Drążkowski, 2014; Meier, Meltzer, & Reinecke, 2018), were investigated. However, because
these studies report cross-sectional data, alternative directions of effects may be plausible. As
mentioned above, negative affective states and reduced life satisfaction have also been
investigated as predictors of escapist media use.
Assessments regarding the valence of effects, that is, communication scholarsanswers
to the question to what extent escapist entertainment use has negative, dysfunctional versus
positive, functional effects have changed slightly over the years. Escapism was originally
introduced as an answer to the question why individuals expose themselves to seemingly
trivial media content like soap operas. Researchers were concerned that entertainment users
simply amuse themselves at the expense of addressing issues of actual importance (e.g.,
Pearlin, 1959; Postman, 1985). These concerns are reflected in the use of the escapism
concept. Katz and Foulkes (1962) suspected that all researchers who examine escapist
entertainment use are somehow concerned with the consequences and “fear the ‘narcotizing
dysfunction’” (p. 385) of media use. For instance, Lazarsfeld and Merton (1957) were
convinced of this dysfunction and feared that mass media “may lead to the unconditional
surrender of critical faculties and an unthinking conformism” (p. 458). Further potential
negative effects that were discussed include the development of social apathy and a misuse of
escapist content as a valid source of information (Klapper, 1949). Many researchers used the
term escapism to justify and spread pessimism regarding entertainment programs. An example
is Blumler (1979) who believed that escapist entertainment use promotes the acceptance of
stereotypes about real-life characters, roles, and conflicts in media users “simply wanting to
be relaxed, entertained, and thrilled(S. 19).
The research discussed above illustrates that early work tended to assess escapist
media use as exclusively dysfunctional and that the concept of escapism was normatively
loaded right from the beginning. An exception was a contribution by Klapper (1949) who took
into account that escapist entertainment use may have beneficial effects. He assumed, for
example, that escapist entertainment use may enable relaxation and provide individuals with
prestige if they identify with successful characters. Katz and Foulkes (1962) also looked at the
effects of escapist entertainment use in a more differentiated way by arguing that it is an
empirical question whether media usersescape is successful in the sense that it prevents them
from performing their social roles. However, overall, the negative view prevailed, although
empirical evidence for such a negative impact of escapist entertainment use is scarce.
More recent research has also investigated some positive effects of escapist
entertainment use. Empirical studies revealed that escapist entertainment use helps to reduce
emotional and cognitive strain, leads to enjoyment, and helps to satisfy intrinsic needs
(Müller, 2018; Perks, 2018). Although these findings contribute to a more balanced picture,
recent research still often carries a negative connotation and tends to classify escapist
entertainment use as dysfunctional (e.g., Meier et al., 2018; Young, Kuss, Griffiths, &
Howard, 2017). This negative view is also exemplified in that many studies have identified
escapism as a key predictor of media addictions (e.g., Kim & Haridakis, 2009; Kırcaburun &
Griffiths, 2018; Li, Liau, & Khoo, 2011; Masur et al., 2014) and that scales on pathological
media use include measures of escapism (e.g., Social Media Disorder Scale; van den Eijnden,
Lemmens, & Valkenburg, 2016).
Theoretical Foundation of Escapist Entertainment Use
The previous remarks have already suggested that researchers have examined escapist
entertainment use from different theoretical perspectives. In the following, we elaborate in
more detail which definitions have been proposed and how researchers have linked the
concept of escapism with communication theories. It will become clear that the escapism
concept lacks theoretical and empirical differentiation.
Questions pertaining to the definition of escapism have long been subject to scholarly
debate. In 1962, Katz and Foulkes published a comprehensive reflection on escapism in which
they criticized that high media exposure should not be equated with escapism because a great
number of different motivations may underlie a seemingly escapist entertainment use. In
addition, the authors emphasized that the motivation to escape does not necessary imply that
individuals actually experience an escape while exposing themselves to entertainment media.
Media use might even have contrary effects, for example, if individuals perceive a semantic
affinity between the entertainment content and specific stressors that they wished to forget
(Zillmann, 1988). Katz and Foulkes (1962) also criticized that some researchers labeled
certain types of entertainment content (e.g., fictional adventure stories; Riley & Riley, 1951)
and psychological processes underlying the experience of being entertained (e.g., parasocial
interactions; Horton & Richard Wohl, 1956) as escapist, because none of these factors would
necessarily lead individuals into withdrawal from the real world. The authors proposed to
only characterize entertainment use as escapist, if it causes unintended negative effects like an
impaired performance of social roles besides the intended compensatory gratifications, which
include, most notably, forgetting unsatisfactory living conditions.
While the paper by Katz and Foulkes (1962) has received considerable attention over
the decades since its publication and today can certainly be considered a “standardtext on
escapist media use, not all of the authorscentral propositions have been implemented
consistently in subsequent escapism research. Whereas the idea of an escapist content can
hardly be found in the following research, many studies have regarded multiple motivations
for media use as escapist. The uses-and-gratifications approach (Blumler, 1979) in particular
has contributed to making escapism one of the most frequently reported motives for media
use. Furthermore, in a number of studies, extensive media use has been equated with escapism
(e.g., Morgan, 1984; Moskalenko & Heine, 2003). Regarding the link between escapism and
the psychological processes underlying the entertainment experience, research has been more
differentiated than described by Katz and Foulkes in 1962. Instead of simply labelling
processes like identification, transportation, and parasocial interactions as escapist per se,
researchers have argued that individuals may fulfill their desire to escape more effectively if
they identify with media characters, are transported into media programs, and experience
parasocial interactions with media characters (Green, 2005; Greenwood, 2008; Hefner,
Klimmt, & Vorderer, 2007; van Looy, Courtois, de Vocht, & de Marez, 2012). Still, as argued
above, these processes are neither motivated solely by escapism nor do users necessarily
forget their real-life problems. Furthermore, in the TEBOTS model, Slater, Johnson, Cohen,
Comello, and Ewoldsen (2014) argued that immersion into narratives goes beyond the desire
to escape. The authors speak of an expansion of the self, which takes into account that
individuals bring a sense of themselves to the narrative and experience insight and personal
growth (see also Johnson, Slater, Silver & Ewoldsen, this volume). Thus, entertainment
scholars have clearly distinguished between entertainment processes and escapism.
The problem of theoretical differentiation becomes particularly apparent when looking
at how researchers have linked the escapism concept with mood management theory
(Zillmann, 1988; see also Luong & Knobloch-Westerwick, this volume) and integrated it in
empirical applications of the uses-and-gratifications approach (Blumler, 1979) and two-factor
models of entertainment (e.g., Oliver & Bartsch, 2010). Mood management theory does not
explicitly mention escapism, however, the media characteristics of absorption potential and
semantic affinity that are assumed to shape media usersmoods to some extent reflect the
escapism idea (Zillmann, 1988). Although few researchers address this connection, it is clear
that entertainment media only allow an individual to escape from negative psychological
states if they are highly absorbing and do not actualize the problems of the individual
(Knobloch-Westerwick, 2015). Despite the fact that escapism and mood management have
never been explicitly theoretically linked, they are sometimes thought of as being
synonymous in entertainment research (e.g., Bartsch & Schneider, 2014; Hagström & Kaldo,
2014) or are mentioned together without further explicating how they differ from another
(e.g., Li et al., 2011; Maccoby, 1954; Rieger, Reinecke, & Bente, 2017).
Likewise, studies within the uses-and-gratifications approach widely refer to escapism
without clarifying it in conceptual terms. Many of these studies mention escapism as a
gratification of media use, but do not define escapism or fail to explicate what drives
individuals to seek an escape and how media provide an escape (e.g., Pittman & Sheehan,
2015; Quinn, 2016; Shade et al., 2015; Smock et al., 2011). It also remains unclear how the
escape motivation relates to other motivations that these studies normally investigate, such as
the motivation to be entertained (Katz, Haas, & Gurevitch, 1973; Rubin, 1983; Shade et al.,
2015). Apart from the uses-and-gratifications perspective, some researchers have linked
escapism with two-factor models of entertainment, which complement the traditional concept
of entertainment as hedonic pleasure with a second dimension that refers to the desires for
meaningfulness and intrinsic need satisfaction (i.e., appreciation; Oliver & Bartsch, 2010;
Tamborini, Bowman, Eden, Grizzard, & Organ, 2010). It seems to be the prevailing opinion that
the motivation to escape is mainly based on hedonistic concerns and is therefore associated
with the choice of hedonic entertainment experiences (e.g., Bartsch & Schneider, 2014;
Raney, 2011; Vorderer, 2011). Other research, however, found no support for a significant
association between the motivation to escape and hedonic entertainment experiences (Roth,
Weinmann, Schneider, Hopp, & Vorderer, 2014). Accordingly, the theoretical link between
escapism and entertainment still lacks theoretical clarification and has not been sufficiently
discussed within both the uses-and-gratifications approach and conceptualizations of hedonic
and eudaimonic entertainment experiences.
In sum, although the concept of escapism has clearly shaped entertainment research, a
number of basic questions about the uses and effects of escapist entertainment are still
unanswered. Entertainment research is lacking a clear answer to the questions when and how
individuals choose entertainment media to escape. Furthermore, researchers have paid too
little attention to potential positive effects of escapist entertainment use. Consequently, the
question whether escapist entertainment use can actually be regarded as solely dysfunctional
remains unanswered. After this historical overview, the question arises how escapist
entertainment use is conceptualized in current research. In the following section, we therefore
describe current conceptualizations of escapist entertainment use and discuss some of the
problems associated with commonly used definitions and measurements.
Current Conceptualizations of Escapist Entertainment Use
Although the escapism concept has remained popular, even today there is no
agreement in research on how to define escapist entertainment use. Contrary to the proposal
of Katz and Foulkes (1962), more recent definitions of escapism do not include assumptions
about possible effects, but instead tend to focus on the specific coping strategy underlying this
form of media use (e.g., Knobloch-Westerwick et al., 2009; Li et al., 2011; Meier et al., 2018).
In the context of stress research, coping has been defined as “constantly changing cognitive
and behavioral efforts to manage specific external and/or internal demands that are appraised
as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person(Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, p. 178). Two
prominent distinctions to systematize strategies of coping with overwhelming demands, also
known as stressors, have been introduced. Firstly, coping strategies are differentiated
according to their focus. Problem-focused coping refers to strategies that aim to manage or
alter stressors. In contrast, emotion-focused coping involves seeking to regulate the emotional
response associated with the stressor (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Secondly, coping strategies
are differentiated according to their orientation. Whereas approach coping refers to strategies
that are oriented toward the stressor, avoidance coping describes strategies oriented away
from the stressor (Roth & Cohen, 1986). Media users may expose themselves to entertainment
media as a strategy of approach coping. For example, individuals who have experienced
problems at work may decide to watch a movie about the work environment to gain the
comforting insight that others have similar problems (emotion-focused approach coping) or to
find advice (problem-focused approach coping). Entertainment media also enable individuals
to apply avoidance coping strategies. Following Knobloch-Westerwick et al. (2009), escapist
media use can be conceptualized as emotion-focused avoidance coping behavior. This means
that when individuals select entertainment use as escape, they aim to distance themselves
from a stressor and, thereby, to reduce negative affective states that are associated with the
stressor. Nevertheless, this conceptualization is not used consistently in entertainment
research—some scholars explicitly distinguish between escapism and coping (e.g., Kahn et
al., 2015). Demetrovics et al. (2011) argued that whereas escapism refers to leaving reality,
coping encompasses dealing with real-life problems as well as managing moods and
undesired impulses. This distinction, however, appears imprecise because it remains unclear
why escaping from reality may not, for example, be a way of dealing with problems.
Furthermore, there is no consensus concerning the dimensions and measurement of
escapist media use. In a literature analysis, Müller (2018) identified seven dimensions of
escapist media use that were used inconsistently. These include escaping from reality,
distraction, loneliness, forgetting about problems, passing time, mood management, and
procrastination. The diversity of the dimensions demonstrates that the term escapism is often
used vaguely, blurring the border to related phenomena. An example of this is that a number
of researchers have equated escapist media use with media procrastination, defined as
delaying an intended course of action (e.g., work task) for the sake of media use (e.g., Lavoie
& Pychyl, 2001; Smock et al., 2011; Wohl, Pychyl, & Bennett, 2010). In contrast, Meier et al.
(2018) suggested a distinction between these constructs and, on that account, outlined
similarities and differences: According to the authors, the main difference lies in the reasons
for both types of media use. They argue that escapist media use results from a purposeful
media selection by which users intend to forget about stressors in their everyday life and to
obtain substitute gratifications like enjoyment. Procrastinatory media use, in contrast,
represents a self-control failure and thus results from uncontrolled media selection that is
impulsively guided by the need for short-term gratifications (Meier et al., 2018).
Consequently, whereas negative life circumstances and perceived stress are more likely to
cause escapist entertainment use as a coping response, the desire not to have to work on an
exhausting task may lead to procrastinatory media usage behavior. As a common feature,
Meier et al. (2018) state that individuals engage in both escapist and procrastinatory media
use to distract themselves from unpleasant affective states and situations. The authors also
assume that both types of media use are dysfunctional in that they keep individuals from
actually dealing with problems or from completing tasks, which may lead to a reduced well-
being (Meier et al., 2018). However, as it will be explained below, escapist media use does
not necessarily have a dysfunctional nature. It is even possible that the fact that in some prior
studies measures of escapism included procrastinatory usage behaviors explains some of the
found negative effects. Or, to put it differently, because delaying tasks, which usually
increases time pressure and stress (Meier et al., 2018), was included in some measures of
escapist media use, the evaluation of the effects escapist media use may have been more
negative than it ought to be.
Overall, the escapism research reviewed above shows great inconsistencies in the way
researchers define and measure escapist media use. We assume that many problems that have
occurred in the conceptualization of escapism, such as the confusion with procrastination, can
be avoided if escapism is regarded as a coping strategy. In the following, we therefore suggest
an extension of previous conceptualizations of escapism based on the transactional model of
stress and coping (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). On the basis of this theoretical foundation, we
will further extend previous attempts to define escapist media use as a form of emotion-
focused avoidance coping (e.g., Knobloch-Westerwick et al., 2009; Kuo, Lutz, & Hiler, 2016;
Stenseng et al., 2012). We will propose that—in contrast to the primarily negative connotation
of escapism found in prior research—escapist media use may be a functional coping strategy
in some situations and may thus have beneficial effects on the well-being of media users. To
develop and illustrate our perspective, we will turn to binge-watching as a prominent example
of escapist entertainment use in the following sections.
Revisiting Escapist Entertainment Use: The Case of Binge-Watching
We believe that binge-watching constitutes an ideal object of study for our attempt to
reach an extended understanding of escapist entertainment use for various reasons. Several
defining features of binge-watching suggest that it can be considered as high-dosed escapism.
Firstly, although extensive media use and escapism cannot be equated directly, seamlessly
following characters and plots from one episode to the next should enhance distraction from
daily stressors (Shim & Kim, 2018). Secondly, longer usage time should enable intensified
entertainment experiences so that individuals receive even more pleasant compensatory
gratifications. More specifically, binge-watching allows for continued immersion and
absorption, which should facilitate experiences of presence, transportation, and parasocial
interactions (Jones, Cronin, & Piacentini, 2018; Perks, 2018; Shim & Kim, 2018).
Furthermore, binge behavior has generally been defined as an excessive consumption as a
means of escape. For example, Heatherton and Baumeister (1991) argue that binge eating is
motivated by a desire to escape from self-awareness, resulting from individualsperception
that they fall short of standards or ideals. In a similar vein, it can be argued that binge-
watching represents a form of escapism if users want to distract themselves from stressors in
this way. Like other binging behaviors, binge-watching represents and avoidance coping
strategy (Heatherton & Baumeister, 1991) and thus well aligns with earlier definitions of
escapist media use as a form of dysfunctional coping (e.g., Li et al., 2011; Meier et al., 2018).
The concept hence shares the negative connotation found in previous definitions of escapist
media use. In the following sections, binge-watching is therefore used as a prototypical
instance of the escapist use of media entertainment. Our aim is to extend previous
conceptualizations of escapist media use that have focused on the dysfunctional aspects of
coping by providing a more holistic perspective on media use as a form of coping.
When and How Do Individuals Select Escapist Binge-Watching as Coping Strategy?
One of the most prominent perspectives on coping is the transactional model of stress
and coping introduced by Lazarus and Folkman (1984). The authors distinguished between
causal antecedents of stress, such as demands, resources and goals, and mediating processes,
namely appraisal and coping. According to the model, whether or not individuals perceive
environmental demands as stressors depends on these mediators. Two forms of appraisal are
distinguished: Primary appraisal refers to the evaluation of the relevance of the current
situation for an individual’s well-being. Individuals can perceive environmental demands as
irrelevant, positive, or potentially harmful and thus stressful. If individuals perceive
situational demands as stressful, they evaluate their coping options and resources as well as
the expected effectiveness and potential consequences of using a particular coping strategy.
This process is denoted as secondary appraisal. The appraisal of resources includes, for
instance, individualsevaluations of their current energy versus tiredness, problem-solving
skills, and social support (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Resource levels have been shown to be
positively associated with the use of approach or problem-focused coping strategies and
negatively associated with avoidance or emotion-focused strategies (Ito & Brotheridge, 2003).
Based on these assumptions, it can be concluded that a basic prerequisite for escapist
entertainment use is that individuals assess environmental demands as stressful (primary
appraisal). During secondary appraisal, escapist media use is one of various coping options
individuals have. This option might appear particularly attractive if individuals’ resources to
actively confront the problem are low. For example, if an individual’s energy is exhausted,
selecting escapist binge-watching as a coping strategy should become more likely. Results
from a qualitative interview study support this notion by indicating that individuals consider
escapist binge-watching as effective when they seek an entertaining, but cognitively
undemanding activity (Perks, 2018). This can be explained by the familiarity of binge-
watched series: Continuously following the same narrative and the same characters is
cognitively less demanding than watching a new movie, for instance. Relatedly, Pittman and
Sheehan (2015) note that “it requires very little effort to binge on Netflix; in fact, it takes
more effort to stop than to keep going(p. 8). Other studies suggest that individuals also
consider escapist binge-watching as effective when it comes to distracting themselves because
this usage behavior fosters experiences of transportation (Perks, 2018; Wagner, 2016), further
underlining that binge-watching is an attractive coping option.
In most instances of coping with stress, different coping strategies are combined
(Lazarus, 1993). Supporting this notion, Folkman, Lazarus, Dunkel-Schetter, DeLongis, and
Gruen (1986) found that when participants experienced a threat to their self-esteem, they
tended to use both problem-focused and escapist coping. The authors proposed that
individuals combine both strategies in stressful phases to alternate between effortful problem-
focused coping and phases of temporal relieve via emotion-focused coping and detachment
from the stressor. This result also fits in with the assumption that strong threats and high
levels of stress lead to more emotion- than problem-focused coping strategies, because
directly dealing with these threats requires the use of many resources (Lazarus & Folkman,
1984). It follows that individuals are more likely to select escapist media use, such as binge-
watching, as a coping strategy when problem-focused coping with the situational demands or
threats is particularly resource-consuming. This does not suggest, however, that binge-
watching as an attempt to temporarily suppress a threat or stress-inducing problem may
necessarily impair or replace subsequent efforts for problem-focused coping. According to
Lazarus and Folkman (1984), emotion-focused coping may even enhance subsequent
problem-focused coping by facilitating the restoration of coping resources. Hence, if
individuals feel anxious and stressed after experiencing a threat to self-esteem, binge-
watching may help them to regulate these negative states, which would then allow them to
actively confront the problem.
In sum, we assume that appraisal processes are essential in understanding escapist
media use, such as binge-watching. That is, binge-watching as a form of escapist coping is
based on various situational assessments, for example, regarding an individual’s resources and
the expected effectiveness of entertainment use as a coping strategy in a particular situation.
Based on this theoretical foundation, we elaborate on the functionality of escapist binge-
watching in the following.
Functionality of Binge-Watching as Coping
While the historical overview of the use of the term escapism has shown that
entertainment scholars have so far predominantly described escapism as dysfunctional, the
above considerations have already illustrated that escapism as a coping strategy can have
beneficial effects. The transactional model of stress and coping (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984)
explicitly states that coping processes are not good or bad by nature. Supporting this notion,
Kohn, Hay, and Legere (1994) found inconsistent and small effects of coping styles on
individualswell-being and concluded that coping styles alone do not determine the
effectiveness of coping processes. Instead, as will be shown below, the utility of any coping
pattern varies with the desired effect that is studied, the point in time at which functionality is
evaluated, and the fit between coping style and the demands of the stressful situation (Lazarus
& Folkman, 1987; Roth & Cohen, 1986).
Firstly, in order to evaluate the functionality of escapist media use, such as binge-
watching, as a coping strategy, the outcome must be determined. As explained above, whereas
early work on escapist entertainment use has focused on negative ways in which this usage
behavior affects society (e.g., political participation), newer research with a stronger focus on
psychological processes has examined effects on the individual (e.g., psychological distress).
The coping literature provides further insights into which positive effects escapist media use
like binge-watching may have. Following Roth and Cohen (1986), avoidance coping may
help individuals to reduce stress and anxiety, increase hope and courage, and to dose their
confrontation with the threat, and thereby, may foster their sense of mastery. As has already
become clear above, experiencing positive affect and reducing distress also “helps replenish
resources and sustain further coping(Folkman & Moskowitz, 2004, p. 766). To the best of
our knowledge, these beneficial effects of avoidance coping have not been systematically
investigated in the context of escapist media use. Research on binge-watching has found
beneficial effects on relaxation (e.g., Panda & Pandey, 2017), but without specifying whether
the respective media use represented escapist coping. Only Perks (2018) specifically
investigated escapist binge-watching in a qualitative study. Her results support the idea that
escapist binge-watching enables relaxation, providing initial support for the beneficial effects
of escapist media use.
Secondly, the functionality of coping styles depends on whether short- or long-term
effects are of interest. Immediate effects include affective reactions and perceptions of
whether the coping was successful. In the long run, coping processes may influence
individualswell-being and social functioning (Lazarus & Folkman, 1987). Results from a
meta-analysis revealed that avoidance coping had more beneficial effects in an early stage of
the stress experience, whereas approach coping was more effective in the long-term (Suls &
Fletcher, 1985). The most beneficial long-term effects of avoidance coping are those that
serve to facilitate approach coping (Roth & Cohen, 1986). With regard to long-term effects of
escapist entertainment use, such as effects on media userslife satisfaction, previous research
relies on cross-sectional data (Hagström & Kaldo, 2014; Stenseng et al., 2012). It has not yet
been explored, for example, how escapist entertainment use interacts with other coping
strategies over a longer period of time.
Finally, the fit between coping style and the demands of the stressful situation is
decisive for whether or not coping has beneficial effects (Lazarus & Folkman, 1987).
Research indicates that whereas approach or problem-focused coping is more effective when
individuals have control over the stressor, avoidance or emotion-focused coping is more
effective when the situation is uncontrollable (Eatough & Chang, 2018; Lazarus & Folkman,
1987). Hence, in order to cope effectively, individuals need to appraise a situation realistically
and select appropriate coping strategies. It follows that escapist entertainment use can be
beneficial in some situations and counterproductive in others. An example would be dealing
with an argument that one had with a friend. While the conflict cannot be resolved because
the friend is temporarily unavailable, it would be beneficial to distract oneself from negative
thoughts by binge-watching. However, this coping strategy would not be effective in the long
run, once the friend could be reached again and the conflict could be resolved. This illustrates
that research must take the context of escapist entertainment use into account in order to
examine its consequences. So far, however, such context factors have neither been
systematically explored in studies on the effects of escapist entertainment use nor in research
on binge-watching.
In sum, it can be concluded that escapist entertainment use, such as binge-watching, is
not inherently or exclusively dysfunctional. Beneficial consequences, especially short-term
effects, such as stress reduction and increased mastery, are likely if escapist coping meets the
demands of the stressful situation. It is also likely that escapist entertainment use interacts
advantageously with other strategies of coping with stress. Avoidance and emotion-focused
coping have been shown to have desirable effects in other life domains, for example, these
forms of coping help individuals to reduce work-related emotional exhaustion and to gain
control over emotional states (Carson & Polman, 2010; e.g., Krischer, Penney, & Hunter,
2010). However, these effects still need to be examined in the context of entertainment use.
As this remains a task for future research on escapist media use, related concepts, such as
media-induced recovery from stress and strain have received more attention from
entertainment research (Reinecke & Eden, 2017) and may also be informative for the
discussion of potential positive effects of escapist entertainment use. In the following, we thus
explore recovery experience as a specific beneficial effect that escapist binge-watching may
Positive Effects of Escapist Media Use? Binge-Watching and Media-Induced Recovery
Based on our previous discussion of the effects of emotion-focused avoidance coping,
we assume that coping through escapist binge-watching has a strong potential to contribute to
recovery. The term recovery refers to the process that “results in restoration of impaired mood
and action prerequisites and is often also reflected in a decrease in physiological strain
indicators(Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007, p. 205). In contrast to this focus on the restoration of
internal resources, coping refers to the processes and strategies an individual chooses to react
to situational demands and stressors. The two constructs can thus be clearly distinguished. At
the same time, recovery shows strong connections to the coping process. This is particularly
apparent with regard to the notion discussed above that emotion-focused avoidance coping
may serve as a temporal relieve from stress and thus helps to restore—or, in other words,
recover—depleted coping resources (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Roth & Cohen, 1986).
Sonnentag and Fritz (2007) identified four key dimensions that are essential for
successful recovery: psychological detachment, relaxation, mastery, and control. While
avoidance coping may have some potential to provide mastery and control experiences (e.g.,
Roth & Cohen, 1986), the connections to psychological detachment and relaxation are more
pronounced. In the following, we will thus focus on these two dimensions of recovery
experiences as an outcome of escapist entertainment use. Psychological detachment refers to
disengaging from thoughts about stressors (Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007). This construct thus
connects well with the definition of escapist entertainment use as an avoidance coping
strategy by which individuals seek to distract themselves from stressors (Reinecke, 2009).
The recovery facet of relaxation “is characterized by a state of low activation and increased
positive affect(Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007, p. 206). Relaxation therefore fits in with the
understanding of escapism as an emotion-focused coping strategy with which individuals
want to regulate emotional reactions and which appears particularly attractive when their
resources are limited.
Previous research indicates that entertainment use promotes recovery processes in
general and the experiences of psychological detachment and relaxation in particular (for an
overview, see Reinecke & Rieger, this volume). In a study by Reinecke and Hofmann (2016),
participants tended to use media for recovery when they experienced exhaustion. Results from
Nabi, Pérez Torres, and Prestin (2017) revealed that media use is even one of the most
frequently selected strategies for coping with stress. However, the researchers did not specify
for which coping strategies their participants used media. Importantly, Reinecke (2009) found
that participants with an emotion-focused coping style showed a higher tendency to use games
for recovery from work-related fatigue and daily hassles than participants with a problem-
focused coping style. This supports the notion that media users engage in escapist media use
to recover from stress. Results from Reinecke, Klatt, and Krämer (2011) indicated that
interactive and noninteractive media offerings elicit recovery experiences. Media use most
strongly triggered the recovery facets of relaxation and psychological detachment.
Furthermore, the study revealed that media-induced recovery experiences were positively
related to vitality and cognitive performance (Reinecke et al., 2011). Rieger et al. (2017)
investigated differences in the recovery potential of video clips with positive versus negative
affective valence. Their results demonstrated that exposure to both positive and negative
media messages lead to increased levels of psychological detachment. However, the video
clip with positive affective valence caused higher levels of relaxation. Thus, escapist
entertainment use might be more likely to promote recovery if individuals expose themselves
to content with positive affective valence.
Escapist binge-watching may facilitate the recovery facets of psychological
detachment and relaxation particularly well. As argued above, binge-watching enables high-
dosed escapism because seamlessly following characters and plots from one episode to the
next facilitates distraction from daily stressors. This should foster the experience of
psychological detachment. In addition, we have argued that binge-watching intensifies
entertainment experiences like transportation or identification so that individuals receive more
pleasant gratifications than when they watch a single episode. This should enhance relaxation.
The experience of relaxation should also be facilitated by the fact that binge-watching can
take place in a state of low activation. In line with this assumption, participants in a study by
Perks (2018) stated that they engage in escapist binge-watching to relax because they consider
this activity cognitively undemanding.
At the same time, however, the case of binge-watching also underlines the potential
pitfalls of escapist media use as a coping strategy: In a study by Granow et al. (2018), binge-
watching had no significant direct effect on recovery experiences. Instead, their results
revealed a negative indirect effect of binge-watching on recovery that was mediated by goal
conflicts and the resulting feelings of guilt. These results emphasize the importance of the fit
between coping strategies and the demands of a stress-inducing situation proposed in the
coping literature (Lazarus & Folkman, 1987): binge-watching as a form of escapist coping
may have beneficial effects, such as psychological detachment and relaxation, if it is well-
aligned with situational demands. If it conflicts with other situational goals and obligation,
however, it may even create additional stress in the form of negative self-conscious emotions.
This suggests that self-control may be a central moderator of the effectiveness of escapist
media use (Hofmann, Reinecke, & Meier, 2017). If escapist binge-watching is used as a form
of strategic and volitional coping with stress, positive effects such as recovery are likely.
However, if media users “give into binge-watching despite existing goal conflicts, thus
rendering escapist media use a form of self-control failure, negative consequences and
increased stress are likely to occur.
Conclusion and Future Directions
The central aim of the present chapter was to integrate and extend prior
conceptualizations of escapist media use. We suggest that escapist use of media entertainment
can fruitfully be conceptualized as a coping strategy (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984): media users
engage in escapist entertainment use to distance themselves from a stressor (i.e., avoidance
coping) and to reduce negative affective states that are associated with the stressor (i.e.,
emotion-focused coping). Defining escapist entertainment use as a coping function entails that
it is independent of outcome (cf. Katz & Foulkes, 1962). Dealing with a stressor by engaging
in escapist binge-watching, for example, does not necessarily allow for distraction and a better
mood, but may have other, unintended consequences, such as negative self-conscious
emotions (Granow et al., 2018). The conceptualization of escapist entertainment use as coping
enables a deeper theoretical understanding of the selection and effects of this type of media
use. Based on the transactional model of stress and coping (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984),
escapist entertainment use can be understood as the result of the complex interaction of
primary and secondary appraisal: individuals engage in escapist entertainment use when they
experience stress (primary appraisal) and assume that entertainment use provides an effective
coping strategy and/or resources for problem-focused coping are (temporarily) not available
(secondary appraisal). Contrary to the basic assumption of the majority of previous escapism
research, this behavior is not necessarily dysfunctional. If escapist entertainment use meets
the requirements of the stress situation, beneficial effects, such as recovery from stress, are
How can research on escapist entertainment use be advanced based on the proposed
coping perspective? Many of the boundary conditions of escapist media use are not well
understood yet. To explain and discover beneficial versus harmful effects of escapist
entertainment use, it is necessary to consider the specific situational contexts of this behavior.
It remains unclear, for example, which situational factors influence the primary and secondary
appraisal processes described above, rendering escapist media use a more or less attractive
coping option in a given stress-inducing episode. Furthermore, because most studies on
negative effects of escapist media use are based on cross-sectional data, experimental or
longitudinal studies are needed to better differentiate between the short- and long-term
consequences of escapist entertainment use. Long-term studies can also be used to explore
whether escapist entertainment use interacts advantageously with other strategies of coping
with stress over time.
Viewing patterns may influence media userscoping behavior and effectiveness. We
have argued that binge-watching is likely to intensify entertainment experiences so that
individuals receive more pleasant gratifications than when they watch a single episode.
Moreover, watching episodes without interruption should help users to forget about daily
stressors. For these reasons, we assume that binge-watching is an effective way of escapist
coping and can significantly promote recovery experiences. However, these assumptions still
have to be examined. Overall, much of the research on the link between escapism and binge-
watching as a coping strategy is qualitative (e.g., Flayelle, Maurage, & Billieux, 2017) and
needs to be verified in quantitative studies with representative samples. Findings from Perks
(2018), for example, indicate that personality differences play a role in the choice of escapist
binge-watching content. While some respondents indicated that binge-watching complex
narratives like Game of Thrones helps them to escape from stress, others preferred less
mentally demanding content.
Following Meier et al. (2018), we have argued that escapist entertainment use must be
clearly separated from media procrastination. Nevertheless, research would benefit from
investigating the connection between these two constructs. Granow et al. (2018) found that
binge-watching was associated with increased goal conflicts, which caused feelings of guilt
about binge-watching. The researchers assume that “the more time recipients spend watching
series consecutively, the more they may run the risk of losing control over their usage,
resulting in goal conflicts, because they postpone tasks that are necessary to achieve long-
term goals in favor of the short-term gratifications of continued watching of the engaging
content(Granow et al., 2018, p. 394). A number of studies support the notion that media
users sometimes perceive goal conflicts due to their binge-watching behavior and tend to feel
guilty about it (e.g., Steiner & Xu, 2018; Walton-Pattison, Dombrowski, & Presseau, 2018).
The same effects, which make binge-watching an effective escapism tool, could at the same
time increase the danger of losing control over watching series. This suggests that self-control
is a central moderator of the effects of escapist media use and needs to be explored more
systematically in future entertainment research (see also Reinecke & Meier, this volume).
Another promising perspective will be to focus on the characteristics of media content
to understand the potential of specific media stimuli for escapist coping. In this context, it is
worth noting that whereas escapism was originally linked with exposure to undemanding
media content, many of the more recently developed TV series and narratives, which are
probably used for escapist binge-watching, tend to be much more complex in their causal
structure (Schlütz, 2016). Future research could therefore examine escapist binge-watching
with regard to narrative structures. Likewise, although light entertainment (e.g., romantic
comedies) is traditionally most vigorously suspected of serving escapist needs, little is known
about how its defining characteristics, such as representations of harmony and beauty, shape
escapist media use and effects. Beyond media content, social interaction triggered by media
use, for example in multiplayer online games, may offer emotional social support, providing a
theoretical link between escapist media use and additional forms of emotion-focused coping
(Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).
We believe that our analysis demonstrates that the coping literature provides a fruitful
basis for an extended understanding of the concept of escapist media use. Conceptualizing
escapist entertainment use as coping behavior may help to identify similarities and differences
between escapist media use and related concepts, such as mood management theory
(Zillmann, 1988), two-factor models of entertainment (e.g., Oliver & Bartsch, 2010), or media-
induced recovery (Reinecke & Eden, 2017; Reinecke & Rieger, this volume). Furthermore,
addressing the research gaps outlined above would greatly broaden our understanding of
when and how media users escape through entertainment use and contribute to a more
complete picture of the risks and benefits of such entertainment use.
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This study uses Grounded Theory to analyze interviews with a dozen individuals who media marathoned while going through a health struggle. The analysis addresses five major themes: engaging in escapism that enables emotional and avoidance coping, regulating cognitive expenditure by embracing challenging or comforting content, being still to heal the body, reducing emotional and cognitive strain by engaging a continuous narrative, and tapering from the marathon when feeling better. Findings suggest that media marathoning can offer beneficial cognitive, emotional, and physical regulatory opportunities for those dealing with health struggles. Furthermore, media marathoning when dealing with a health concern is a strategic and active coping strategy that has potential health benefits.
Through a micro-ethnographic engagement with consumers’ binge-watching experiences of the web-TV series House of Cards, this videography explores what we consider to be the ‘extended frontiers’ of escapism. In contrast to passive/active classifications of escapism which risk reducing escapist fare to a textual resource which can be categorised discretely at the point of consumption, we consider ‘sustained encounters’ with escapist fare as appropriable textures characterised by ongoing and less immediately discernible processes. Drawing upon the concept of hyperdiegesis, we consider potentially ‘projective’ forms of narrative transportation in binge-watching; heterochronic breaks from normal patterns of time; and post-object behaviours. In doing so, we outline how forms of escapism traditionally considered passive may under certain conditions represent much richer and more complex enterprises than previously imagined.
What happens when media and politics become forms of entertainment? In the season of Trump and Hillary, Neil's Postman's essential guide to the modern media is more relevant than ever.Originally published in 1985, Neil Postman’s groundbreaking polemic about the corrosive effects of television on our politics and public discourse has been hailed as a twenty-first-century book published in the twentieth century. Now, with television joined by more sophisticated electronic media—from the Internet to cell phones to DVDs—it has taken on even greater significance. Amusing Ourselves to Death is a prophetic look at what happens when politics, journalism, education, and even religion become subject to the demands of entertainment. It is also a blueprint for regaining control of our media, so that they can serve our highest goals."It's unlikely that Trump has ever read Amusing Ourselves to Death, but his ascent would not have surprised Postman.” -CNN
This study examined the interactive effects of interpersonal conflict at work, coping strategy, and perceived control specific to the conflict on employee work strain using multisource and time-lagged data across two samples. In Sample 1, multisource data was collected from 438 employees as well as data from participant-identified secondary sources (e.g., significant others, best friends). In Sample 2, time-lagged data from 100 full-time employees was collected in a constructive replication. Overall, findings suggested that the success of coping efforts as indicated by lower strains hinges on the combination of the severity of the stressor, perceived control over the stressor, and coping strategy used (problem-focused vs. emotion-focused coping). Results from the current study provide insights for why previous efforts to document the moderating effects of coping have been inconsistent, especially with regards to emotion-focused coping.
An online survey of 785 binge-watchers was conducted to identify motivations for binge-watching TV drama series and to explore the moderating effects of sensation seeking and need for cognition on binge-watching behavior. The results of a principal component analysis on data collected from these binge-watchers demonstrate that individuals perceive binge-watching as a means to satisfy their desires for enjoyment, efficiency, control, and fandom. In addition, individuals are especially drawn to binge-watching when the activity is recommended by others. Subsequent regression and moderation analyses reveal that sensation seeking and need for cognition not only have positive effects on binge-watching behavior but also boost the effects of certain binge-watching motivations. In sum, this study provides an empirical overview of why individuals are motivated to binge-watch TV dramas and how those with certain psychological traits are more likely to engage in this media-consumption behavior.