The science of smartphone addiction

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Smartphone addiction has reached the point that the mere thought of being separated from our phones strikes fear in our hearts.

This separation anxiety has even been given a name, “nomophobia,” demonstrating just how intensely this addiction has grown.

The intensity of our smartphone addiction can be explained in terms of neuroscience.

The release of the neurotransmitter dopamine is the basis of our smartphone addiction, according to an article from the American Marketing Association, because dopamine stimulates our seeking behavior.

In the case of smartphone addiction, we seek messages, likes, and followers from social networks because they provide a rewarding feeling of validation and belonging.

These rewarding interactions function as positive reinforcement, strengthening our desire to seek even more from our smartphones and thus, driving our addiction.

In other words, our smartphone addiction is a vicious cycle.

RUNDOWN SHOWS:
1. Smartphone of a non-addicted user goes off in a meeting
2. An action potential is generated in the non-addicted user’s brain
3. Neurotransmitter release in a non-addicted user
4. Smartphone of an addicted user goes off in a meeting
5. Generation of an action potential and neurotransmitter release in an addicted user
6. Positive reinforcement of smartphone use due to messaging and social media
7. Addicted smartphone user

VOICEOVER (in English):
When we receive a notification on our phone, the neurons in the ventral tegmental area of our brain become excited.

This excitation generates an electrical signal called an action potential, which travels to a neuron’s presynaptic terminal in the area of our brain called the nucleus accumbens.

The action potential leads to the opening of calcium channels. Calcium ions diffuse into the neuron, causing vesicles to fuse to the neuron’s membrane and to release dopamine molecules, which diffuse into the synapse.

Dopamine molecules bind to receptors on the postsynaptic neuron, causing sodium channels to open. Sodium ion diffusion causes the neuron to become more positive, but not enough to generate an action potential. Dopamine molecules left in the synapse are degraded by enzymes, reabsorbed by dopamine transporters, or diffuse away. This is what happens in a non-addicted smartphone user.

In an addicted smartphone user, the neurons become excited, generating an action potential that travels to the nucleus accumbens in the same way. However, a study suggests that addicted users have fewer dopamine transporters.

As a result, dopamine stays in the synapse longer and continues binding to receptors. Increased binding opens more sodium channels for a longer time, increasing sodium diffusion into the postsynaptic neuron, which becomes positive enough to generate an action potential.

Dopamine is the basis of our smartphone addiction because it stimulates our seeking behavior. In this case, we seek likes, followers, and messages because they provide a rewarding feeling of validation and belonging.

These rewarding interactions serve as positive reinforcement, strengthening our desire to seek out even more from our smartphones.

SOURCES:
Reduced Striatal Dopamine Transporters in People with Internet Addiction Disorder; Life: The Science of Biology, 10e; Social Media Triggers a Dopamine High;
https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2012/854524/
http://www.macmillanlearning.com/catalog/Product/lifethescienceofbiology-tenthedition-sadava
https://www.ama.org/publications/MarketingNews/Pages/feeding-the-addiction.aspx