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Cell phones are one of man’s greatest innovations, allowing us to connect and communicate with one another and the world around us like never before. Providing us with convenience and entertainment in times of boredom, loneliness, and sleeplessness, their pervasiveness is no surprise with an astounding 4.68 billion users worldwide, and the number continues to grow. For many, they have become just as important as the people in their lives and an essential item to get through the day. It is estimated that the average person uses their cell phone for approximately five to nine hours on a daily basis. Cell phone addiction is a prominent issue in today’s technological-centered society, and it has a strong, firm grip on the lives of many for its symptoms are comparable to those of drug addicts. As the influence of cell phones and social media continues to expand rapidly, psychologists and doctors everywhere are conducting various studies to observe how and why these captivating gadgets are affecting not only our physical health, but our mental, emotional, and social well-being as well.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that creates the sensation of pleasure and reward in our brains. It has a significant effect on reinforcement and is what pushes us seek out pleasurable activities.It is most activated in the brains of adolescents causing them to naturally be drawn to things that arouse their dopamine levels. The human brain craves dopamine and is designed to seek the new and unfamiliar. This can explain why so many of us experience a compulsive urge to constantly check our phones in hopes that something will give us the thrill of pleasure. Cell phones provide us with a constant flow of new information generating bursts of dopamine in our minds making it hard to put our cell phones down. The persistent notifications of likes, messages, breaking news, vibrations and ringing from our cell phones all stimulate dopamine. They also give us the satisfactory feeling of social approval. The pleasure we receive after using our phones encourage us to use them over and over again. Hyper arousing dopamine levels is directly related with the development of addiction. It creates what doctors call a “compulsion loop”, which occurs when certain activities are repeated in order to gain dopamine.
The use of variable reward schedules of reinforcement also affects the way our brains work. A common thread among various social media apps is the time delay of approximately two to three seconds when you refresh your news feed. This delay to see the number of new notifications and posts builds up anticipation causing us to become addicted and bound to check it once again. The unpredictability of this feature is what makes it most addicting and causes a habit to be developed. Knowing exactly what we’ll come across when we are online drives us to log back in. The new content spikes our dopamine levels and leaves us wanting more. The feeling of being left out of something important or not knowing what is going online compels us to check our phones as well. Our brains respond this pull to refresh mechanism as if it were a danger for it activates our fight-or-flight response triggering symptoms of anxiety. The incessant alerts of notifications result in our brains being in a constant state of stress and fear damaging our brain’s frontal cortex just drugs like cocaine and nicotine do.
When many think about the addictive relationship between people and their phones, the blame always seems to be one sided. What many don’t realize is that numerous applications on our cell phones are designed with the sole intention of hooking and securing our interest and time. From games like candy crush saga to social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, the creater’s main concern is how much time we spend on their apps and how keep us there. Most of these apps are available to us at no cost, because they make their earnings through advertisements. The more active users online to view and click on advertisements and the longer they view these ads, the more revenue these companies reep. They use various persuasive psychology techniques in their designs that our brains simply can’t resist. For example, Snapchat has a distinct feature known as “streaks”. The feature tracks the number of days two people have “snapped” in a row. Many users have reported feeling anxiety at the thought of losing their “streaks”prompting them to use snapchat on a daily basis. The autoplay feature on YouTube and Netflix, automatically plays the next episode or video instead of giving the user the choice. For the same reason, our news feeds always have the latest content giving us a reason to continue to scroll.We are eager to know what will happen in the next episode or to watch just one video and are emotionally invested in them making it difficult to not give in.
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