Are You Addicted To Texting?

One of my early blog posts was about dopamine, and since then our smartphones have become even more capable of triggering a “dopamine loop.” So I thought I would re-visit the topic. Especially because I just did an animated video on the topic for the Brain Signal youtube channel:

It’s all about dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that is found all through our body. In our brains dopamine is involved in a lot of our behavior, including thinking, moving, sleeping, mood, attention, motivation, seeking and reward.

Dopamine causes us to want, desire, seek out, and search. Researchers used to think that dopamine was the “pleasure” chemical. But Kent Berridge’s work at the University of Michigan distinguishes between dopamine, the “wanting” system, and the opioid system as the “liking” system. The wanting system propels us to action and the liking system makes us feel satisfied, so we pause our seeking. The wanting system is stronger than the liking system. We seek more than we are satisfied.

Dopamine induces a loop — it starts us seeking, then we get rewarded for the seeking which makes us seek more. Which is what I think happens when we respond to texts, or emails. The result is that we can’t stop looking at email, texting, or checking our cell phones to see if we have a message or a new text.

The theoroy of classical conditioning in psychology tells us that we can become conditioned to respond to auditory or visual cues that a reward has, or is going to, arrive. Our smartphones beep and flash and show little icons when we have messages or texts, all adding to the addictive effect. Between classical conditioning and dopamine it can feel like you are addicted!

What do you think? Do you have a hard time not checking your phone when you hear that special tone?

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One Reply to “Are You Addicted To Texting?”

  1. I’ve always wondered why we tend to party or ask for a treat when we hear good news about achievements or when it’s simply a pleasant event like a birthday..

    The secret lies in dopamine, a chemical that the ‘reward’ centres of the brain release whenever we attain a reward or have any other reason to feel good (e.g.birthday). Whether it is a marriage proposal that your crush accepted or just a piece of cake that you ate, the release of dopamine makes you feel good. To ensure that this good feeling lasts, we seek more dopamine-releasing activities.

    Celebration is therefore the brain’s attempt to release more dopamine!

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