Notifications on your phone – like a nice WhatsApp message – trigger the reward system in the brain, which makes you want to check your phone constantly. Being aware of the processes underlying phone addiction can help you resist the temptation!
Most of us carry our smartphones with us all day, every day. As a result, we have constant access to the latest news, our email, and our friends. This often distracts us from our daily activities, even when our phones are set on silent. We even sometimes use our smartphones in dangerous situations (i.e. texting while driving) and smartphones keep us up at night. How come we are often unable to resist the temptation of our smartphones, and what can we do about it?
One important concept that can help us explain our smartphone addiction is craving. Craving means having a strong urge to have something. Craving plays an important role in addiction and is the result of conditioning processes. When we encounter a cue that we associate with a pleasant feeling, dopamine is released into the nucleus accumbens, a brain region susceptible to rewards. A Facebook or WhatsApp notification acts as just such a cue, which makes it very difficult to suppress the urge to quickly check your smartphone. In this way, we can get addicted to checking our phones, constantly seeking pleasurable experiences.
The valence of the notifications we receive varies a lot. Your phone buzzes when you receive an important email after a job interview, but also when there is an unimportant system update. The unpredictability of the content of notifications makes our smartphones even more addictive. Every time we receive a notification, we anticipate on a positive stimulus and dopamine is released into the nucleus accumbens. It’s a bit like a gambling machine: the unpredictability of winning large rewards (or receiving positive messages) stimulates dopamine release.
SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES
Another aspect of our smartphones that is very addictive is the use of social networking sites. Social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter trigger a variety of powerful psychological mechanisms such as social comparison (am I having as much fun as my friends?) and impression management (my friends should see the cool outfit I am wearing today!). Adolescents have a heightened susceptibility to peer influence and addiction, which makes them extra vulnerable for smartphone addiction.
TIPS TO RESIST THE TEMPTATION OF YOUR PHONE
Now that you have read this blog, the most obvious thing to do in order to reduce your smartphone addiction is to turn off your notifications. This will mean you receive fewer stimuli that prompt you to check your phone. Another tip is to stop using your phone as your alarm clock. Leaving your phone in another room when you go to bed will improve your sleep. A final tip is to remove your social networking applications from your smartphone. If you do want to check your Facebook timeline or Instagram account, you will then have to consciously surf to the website. This will decrease the likelihood of you simply scrolling through your Facebook timeline out of habit. And if you really want to make sure you aren’t tempted to check your phone when you’re with friends, leave your phone at home!