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MU Psych Central – Tech Addiction Pt. 2

The neuroscience behind why using your cell phone feels good


by Dr Nicolle Mayo - August 31, 2016

The brain is a complex organ in our bodies that underlies all of our thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. It holds the answer to why we become addicted or overly dependent to our cell phones. Although the answer is much more complicated than what this feature and article are presenting, understanding the basics of our brain’s inner-workings is important to developing a better idea as to how this all works. Dopamine is one of over 100 neurotransmitters, or chemical impulses, that directs our body to respond in some way. It plays a role in our ability to move, remember, experience pleasure, behave a certain way, think, hold our attention, sleep, control mood, and learn. Specifically related to behavior addictions, dopamine mediates pleasure in the brain. It’s released when we experience satisfaction in something and fuels our pleasure-seeking drives.

As such, dopamine plays a large role in our cell phone dependencies. We all experience some sort of pleasure through our phones, whether it be answering a call from someone we like, checking our facebook status or how many “likes” people have given us on a post, snapchatting or instagraming a friend the latest news, or tweeting an opinion we have about a social justice issue. We also experience instant gratification when we look up information on our phones that might otherwise be inaccessible. Our phones provide information, social connections, opinions, and music at our very fingertips. Who isn’t happy about this? Our brains love it. We get what we want when we want it. Through this cycle, our brain starts to associate cell phone use with a neurochemical reward. Our brains learn this process very rapidly, so that every time we are exposed to our cell phones (or have it in close access), our brains already know it’s reinforcing. So, we “crave” it, or what it gives us access to, at least. As a result, it’s easy to lose control over when we use our phone and start compulsively checking or using it because of our brain’s intense drive to seek more. Hence, the cycle of cell phone dependence.

To reduce any type of dependence, we need to be aware of our triggers and resulting behaviors. How often are you on your phone? It may seem like a hassle, but simply taking a week to record how often you are on your phone can reveal a lot of insight into how you spend or waste your time. Identifying what prompts you to use your phone helps you pay attention to and gain more control over not responding by just being aware of what is happening. Some of these things could be the sound notifications programmed, other people using their phones, sitting alone with nothing to do, checking the time. The list goes on. What’s your trigger? By acknowledging these triggers, you can then choose to take the next step of cutting out certain cell phone activities or impulsive checking. This takes a lot of effort, but you can learn to implement other productive behaviors or distractions if and when you do “crave” your phone. Go find someone to talk to face-to-face, find a hobby, carry a book or magazine with you, wear a watch instead of using your phone for the time, or put your phone away so you cannot see it or attempt to look at it. Your cravings may feel intense for a while, but if you don’t give in, you may begin to actually enjoy not being on your phone and find other pleasures in life.

MU Psych Central is supported by the Mansfield Psychology Department, which includes Dr. Gretchen Sechrist, Department Chair and Associate Professor, who specializes in Social Psychology, Dr. Brian Loher, Professor, our Human Resource Management specialist, Dr. Francis Craig, Professor, expert in Mind/Body Health, Dr. Karri Verno, Associate Professor, who specializes in Lifespan Development and Forensic Psychology and Nicolle Mayo, Assistant Professor, expert in Marriage and Family Therapy.


Idea/Concept: Dr Nicolle Mayo

Videography: Andrew Moore

Video Editing: Andrew Moore

Writing: Dr Nicolle Mayo

Anchor: Dr Nicolle Mayo

Photography: N/A,


Produced by Vogt Media

Funded by Mansfield University, Matthews Motor Company

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