Have you ever wondered why people have addictions to Facebook, Twitter or internet games? Now we may have a better understanding.
“We’re beginning to understand that achieving a goal or anticipating the reward of new content for completing a task can excite the neurons in the ventral tegmental area of the midbrain, which releases the neurotransmitter dopamine into the brain’s pleasure centers.
This in turn causes the experience to be perceived as pleasurable. As a result, some people can become obsessed with these pleasure-seeking experiences and engage in compulsive behavior such as a need to keep playing a game, constantly check email, or compulsively gamble online.”
Dopamine is the very chemical released in the brain that addicts smokers to nicotine, or drug users to cocaine or heroin. It delivers a small dopamine release, causing pleasure. If you do it often enough, you are soon caught in the “compulsion loop” as the pleasure feedback is called, which brings you back for more.
“Gaming companies talk openly about creating a ‘compulsion loop,’ which works roughly as follows: the player plays the game; the player achieves the goal; the player is awarded new content; which causes the player to want to continue playing with the new content and re-enter the loop.”
Through NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) imaging scientists can “more accurately measure what people are experiencing when they play online games, interact with smart devices, or gamble.” Now, these measurements can be, and are used to optimize “near misses” in gambling machines and use other tools to provide more of a sense of control over the game, which can extend gambling time by 30%.
Have you seen people so addicted to their cell phones that they bump into people as they walk down the street, or hit other vehicles in traffic? Blackberries are now sometimes referred to as “crackberries,” as people compulsively check their email, text messages, stock prices, sports scores and anything else in hopes of hearing good news.
The digital age has removed barriers to compulsive behavior. And Internet application suppliers are no longer just supplying customers with services that make their products more appealing. Now they are making applications more compelling and compulsive, intentionally creating the compulsion to gather more friends on Facebook, twitter, gamble online instead of having to go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City, etc. All the compulsions are easily accessed right from a smart phone or tablet. “Indeed, we have grown so addicted to our smartphones that we now experience ‘phantom smartphone buzzing,’ which tricks our brains into thinking our phone is vibrating when it isn’t.”
Perhaps the injunctions concerning coffee and tobacco should also apply to the internet, or at least certain uses of the internet.
“Tea and coffee produce an immediate effect. Under the influence of these poisons the nervous system is excited; and in some cases, for the time being, the intellect seems to be invigorated, the imagination more vivid. Because these stimulants produce such agreeable results [dopamine release], many conclude that they really need them; but there is always a reaction. The nervous system has borrowed power from its future resources for present use, and all this temporary invigoration is followed by a corresponding depression. The suddenness of the relief obtained from tea and coffee is an evidence that what seems to be strength is only nervous excitement, and consequently must be an injury to the system.”