SMARTPHONE dependence may have similar effects on the brain to some of those seen in opioid addiction, according to a new study.
Researchers surveying college students about technology use have found a number of worrying trends among those who overly rely on their devices – and warn the behavior is much like any other type of substance abuse.
In addition to the neurological effects, the researchers found that people who are dependent on their phones tend to feel isolated, lonely, depressed, and anxious more so than their peers.
‘The behavioral addiction of smartphone use begins forming neurological connections in the brain in ways similar to how opioid addiction is experienced by people taking Oxycontin for pain relief – gradually,’ says Erik Peper, Professor of Health Education at San Francisco State University.
The researchers surveyed 135 students at the university, revealing a number of negative social affects among those who reported higher phone use.
The experts say loneliness may be linked to the absence of face-to-face interactions and the lack of visible body language.
And, they say students who use their phones more are constantly multitasking.
This, Peper says, gives the mind little time to relax, and dedicates less effort to each of the individual tasks as a person would if they’d focused on one thing at a time.
The researcher says smartphones trigger pathways in the brains once used to alert humans to dangers – but, the tech industry has tapped into this to increase profits.
‘More eyeballs, more clicks, more money,’ said Peper.
‘But now we are hijacked by those same mechanisms that once protected us and allowed us to survive – for the most trivial pieces of information.’
This isn’t the first study to suggest smartphone dependence may, in some ways, mimic a substance addiction.
In a similar study published earlier this year, however, researchers say there is another side to the argument.
While smartphone overuse may seem isolating, a team from McGill University argues that our dependence on the technology likely stems from a desire to connect with other people.
Why we are addicted to our smartphones
Worrying research published in December 2017 revealed we reach for our smartphones around 4,000 times a year for no apparent reason.
Each day we unlock our phone 28 times – and over a third of the time this is compulsive and unnecessary.
The apps we crave most are Facebook, followed by WhatsApp, Gmail and Instagram, the survey found.
Experts from Malta-based online casino Casumo.com looked at 2,000 UK smartphone users in order to find out whether checking their device was out of habit or necessity.
They found more than 40 percent of the 10,000 times users check smartphones each year is ‘compulsive’.
The top ten percent of users check their phones more than 60 times a day.
More than one in three people think they are addicted to checking their phone with the average user spending nearly an hour each day on their phone.
The survey also found Google Maps is considered the most useful app while WhatsApp and Gmail come second and third. Google Chrome is fourth and Facebook comes in fifth.
Based on this, the researchers in the McGill study say we may not be addicted to smartphones after all – instead, we’re addicted to social interactions.
According to the researchers, these devices tap into our basic needs as a uniquely social species.
Humans tend to seek meaning and a sense of identity through their interactions with others.
Thus, addiction to smartphones and other devices may be considered hyper-social, not anti-social, the researchers said.
But, the pace and scale at which they’re used could put the brain’s reward system in ‘overdrive,’ they warn.