Technology Addiction: Do Smartphones Lead to Overuse and Dumbdown?

Little Sally falls from the jungle gym, screams, and rubs her knee while mom is scrolling through her email. Baby John throws his dinner onto the floor unnoticed because dad is checking stock market news on his phone. Does this sound familiar? Statistics show that unintentional childhood injuries have increased by 10%. The evidence suggests that smartphone use causes the user to become distracted without the ability to attend to external stimuli. People use smart devices with the intention of multitasking but at what cost? Many kids report that they feel like they have to compete with their parents’ devices for attention. Children are being deprived of important face-to-face conversations that used to take place at the dinner table. Now, that is being replaced with parents and children with faces painted in the glow of their devices. Smartphone overuse affects romantic relationships as well. Researchers have coined the term “technoference” to describe daily intrusions or interruptions due to technology. A study found that women in relationships reported that more technoference was responsible for lower relationship satisfaction, more depressive symptoms and lower life satisfaction. Repeated interruptions, intentional or otherwise, could send a message to the significant other that the device is more important than the relationship.

Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is defined as pathological computer and Internet use that is characterized by the amount of time spent on the Internet and how it is affecting daily functioning. A new brain scan study found that Internet addiction may cause the same brain changes that are seen in people addicted to alcohol, meth, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Researchers found more patterns of “abnormal white matter” in the brains of those diagnosed with IAD. The neural changes were associated with impaired transmission in areas related to decision-making, self-control, and emotions. These findings are similar to brain scans of people addicted to video games. A connection exists between internet and game addicts and it suggests that hardcore gamers are more likely to be addicted to the Internet. Researchers in China found that college students who spent an average of 10 hours a day online gaming showed less gray matter (the thinking part of the brain) than the control group who spent less than two hours a day online. Playing video games temporarily floods the pleasure center of the brain with dopamine (a neurotransmitter of pleasure) tells the brain that it doesn’t need to produce any more. If this occurs for hours daily, then the end result is a brain with a reduced supply of dopamine which increases the addict’s need for more of the addictive behavior in order to keep dopamine levels up. Here are a few warning signs that could indicate a problem:

  • Spending excessive amounts of time on the computer.
  • Becoming defensive when confronted about gaming.
  • Seeming bored or depressed when abstinent from device addiction.
  • Attempting to hide gaming activities.
  • Preferring to spend more time with the computer than with friends or family.
  • Losing interest in previously important activities or hobbies.
  • Neglecting schoolwork and struggling to achieve acceptable grades.
  • Establishing a new life with online friends.

Neurofeedback has been shown to be effective for addiction and is used in many top flight addiction centers. Neurofeedback training allows the brain to better cope with stress and in turn, can diminish the impulse to use technology as a drug. Some of the benefits of neurofeedback include better sleep quality and quantity and improved emotional regulation. The benefits from neurofeedback can provide relief for many addictive behaviors.