Imagine a world in which a human brain and smartphone are one in the same, where it is virtually impossible to distinguish between the two.
That world is upon us.
Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov studied classical conditioning, a concept that originated with the observation of canine digestive systems.
What Pavlov noticed is that if he played a sound before feeding the dogs, they would soon associate that sound with mealtime. Even when there was no food around, the dogs would begin drooling when they heard the buzzer.
According to psychologist David Greenfield, this exact phenomenon is what human beings are now experiencing with smartphones.
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How Does Smartphone Addiction Work?
Greenfield is a psychologist and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut. He says that when people hear a sound or buzz that alerts us to a text, email, or Facebook post, we are essentially experiencing the same sensation that Pavlov observed with his dogs.
Humans have grown to associate connection via smartphones with pleasure or reward. So when we hear the buzz or sound alerting us to our phone’s content, our brains release dopamine – the pleasure chemical.
“That ping is telling us there is some type of reward there, waiting for us,” Greenfield suggests.
That conditioning, in and of itself, isn’t as troublesome as what happens over time.
But here’s the problem.
Eventually, the sound of your phone alert takes on a life of its own, becoming more powerful than the text, email, or social media comment that it represents. Some research suggests that dopamine levels can be two times higher during an anticipation phase than when the reward is actually received.
Smartphones Use the Same Mind Tricks as Slot Machines
So how do you know when it’s become too much?
According to Greenfield, the average adult checks their phone between 50 and 300 times each day.
Let’s presume that average person sleeps for 8 hours a night.
That means that the average adult is checking their smartphone at least 3 times an hour, or once every 20 minutes. On the high end, that becomes more than 18 times an hour, or nearly once every 3 minutes.
It’s not surprising… Smartphones pull out all the psychological tricks out there to encourage people to use them. Many of these techniques are the same tricks slot machines use to keep gamblers hooked.
“For example, every time you look at your phone, you don’t know what you’re going to find – how relevant or desirable a message is going to be,” Greenfield explains. “So you keep checking it over and over again because every once in a while, there’s something good there.”
And that kind of addiction is worrisome… To say the least.
An increasing number of medical professionals are calling this relationship to our smartphones a “disorder” or terming it “problematic behavior. Other doctors and psychologists suggest that overuse of smartphones truly is a behavioral addiction similar to gambling.
According to Dr. Anna Lembke, a Stanford University psychologist, smartphone addiction is a “spectrum disorder.” She says that there are mild, moderate, and extreme forms.
And for some people, it isn’t a problem at all. Lembke suggests that phone usage can actually be beneficial for some people in moderation.
So How Do You Know When It’s A Problem?
There are some telltale signs that your relationship to your phone is, in fact, an unhealthy one.
Here are a few indicators that your phone is creating unhealthy behavioral patterns:
- It keeps you up at night or interferes with your sleep patterns
- You have less time to spend with your friends or family
- It interferes with your ability to finish homework.
- It incites rude behavior, even if you don’t realize it. For example, you may interrupt real-life conversations to check your phone.
- It decreases your ability to think creatively.
Fortunately, There Are Remedies To Curb the Addiction
If you’re afraid your phone may negatively affect you, don’t worry. All is not lost. You don’t have to break up with your phone entirely and go off the grid to develop a more balanced relationship with the technology.
There are several ways to curb a smartphone addiction. Try these tips:
- Take a one-day digital detox every week: Disconnect from your smartphone and other related forms of tech for 24 hours each week. It will help you to reconnect family and friends, and encourages relaxation.
- Don’t Bring Your Phone to the Dinner Table: Keep mealtime and smartphone usage separate. This also goes for any other time that a phone might impede your ability to remain fully focused on the human interaction in front of you.
- Turn off Notifications… At Least at Night: If you want to curb the trigger that’s turning human beings into Pavlov’s Dogs, turn off your notifications! You can turn your iPhone on Do Not Disturb at night, or during the day when you don’t want to be distracted.
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Data Source: npr.com