Smart Phone addiction explained: Part2

Do you experience a mild state of panic when you misplace your smartphone?

This state of panic or anxiety when you misplaced your smartphone is much the same unique emotion as for any other addiction, but only milder. This begs the question: “How does cellular addiction link to any other addiction and why is it so difficult to ignore your smartphone when beeping?” It must be emphasised that there is nothing inherently addictive about smartphones themselves but the pitfalls are the hyper-social environment attachments they provide and how our brains re-act on it.

Let us have a closer look at Dopamine and social reward as two of the pitfalls.

The human brain contains four major different dopamine pathways or connections acting as roads for chemical messages between different parts of the brain which we call neurotransmitters. Each pathway has its own associated cognitive and movement processes. Three of these pathways are reward pathways: (1) mesocortical, (2) mesolimbic, and (3) igrostriatal pathways. The fourth tuberoinfundibular pathway regulates the release of a hormone called prolactin which is required for the production of milk.

The 3 reward pathways form associations between a particular stimulus or sequence of behaviors and the feel-good reward that follows. This is exactly what smartphones have in common with other potential addictive behaviours. Every time a response to a stimulus results in a reward, these associations become stronger through a process called long-term potentiating.  In this way the brain forms neurons by increasing the intensity at which they respond to particular stimuli.

In essence dopamine is a chemical produced by our brains that plays a central role in motivating our behaviour and it rewards us for satisfying behaviors and motivates us to repeat them. Dopamine is released when we take a bite of delicious food, when we have sex, after we exercise, and importantly, when we have successful social interactions.

In the same way positive social stimuli will similarly result in a release of dopamine, reinforcing whatever behaviour preceded it.  Social stimuli reward such a message from loved ones, laughing faces or positive recognition by our peers activates the same dopamine reward pathways.

This is here where the trap is because our smartphones provides us with easily available and to uncontrolled supply of social stimuli, both positive and negative. Therefore every “text message beep”, a “like”, a “Facebook notification” etc., has the potential to be a social stimulus and dopamine influx.

The answer is that your brain acts the same with your smartphone rewards as any other potential addictive activity appliance or behaviour, creating a dependency “addiction” and good feeling.  My next blog will explain the three reward pathways: (1) mesocortical, (2) mesolimbic, and (3) igrostriatal pathways to understand addiction.  Thereafter I will make it clear how advertisers uses the brains’ Reward Prediction Error (RPE) Encoding to get us hooked and keep us hooked in the same way casino’s have manipulated players into addiction all along.