Are our smartphones addictive, medically speaking? Some psychologists say that using our cell Phones and BlackBerrys may tap into the same associative learning pathways in the brain that make other compulsive behavior like gambling so addictive. As with addiction to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or food-the chemical driver of this process is the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine.
People Feel Stressed Without Their Phone
People who have accidentally left home without their phones say they feel stressed-out, cut off and somehow not-whole. It sounds a lot like separation anxiety. Not long ago, a scientist headed an effort to identify the 10 most powerful sounds in the world: he found that a vibrating phone came in third, behind only the Intel chime and the sound of a baby giggling.
Invisible vibration syndrome is the term used to describe the habit of scrambling for a cellphone whenever we feel rippling in our pocket, only to find out we are mistaken. Similar to pressing an elevator button repeatedly in the belief that the elevator will start sooner, we check our phones for e-mails and texts countless times a day, almost as if we can will others to text, call, e-mail or Skype us.
Living in Our Phones
While at the gym working out on the stair master, I watch as one person after another walk around with their headsets on while staring down at the phone in their hands. They rarely make eye contact with other people. So as I watch this, it makes me wonder and try to remember when this first started happening, when we began to live in our phones that is.
The recent movie “Her” depicts a man (Theodore Twombly) who falls in love with his operating system. The truth is that it very much parallels how we live today. Since most relationships are sustained through Facebook and texting it’s easy to see how this movie mirrors real life. In one scene the operating system goes down and Theodore has a complete melt down because he can not reach his love!
Test Reveals We Love Our Phones
Martin Lindstrom conducted a test to see if people were addicted to their phones. The 16 test subjects were exposed separately to audio and to video of a ringing and vibrating iPhone.
In each instance the results showed activation in both the audio and visual cortices of the subjects’ brains. In other words, when they were exposed to the video the subjects’ brains didn’t just see the vibrating iPhone, they “heard” it, too; and when they were exposed to the audio, they also “saw” it. This powerful cross-sensory phenomenon is known as synesthesia.
But most striking of all was the flurry of activation in the insular cortex of the brain, which is associated with feelings of love and compassion. The subjects’ brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member.
In short, the test subjects didn’t demonstrate the classic brain-based signs of addiction. Instead, they loved their cell Phones!