December 15, 2016
If you look up from your smartphone, what do you see? Chances are, you’ll see other people engrossed in their smartphones. This happens on the bus, in the subway, in a lecture, and even at the dinner table! It’s clear that nowadays, a lot of us have an insatiable appetite for information and to stay connected.
As a result, we’re always checking our phones to stay up to date, being bombarded by notifications of new messages, social media posts, breaking news, app updates and more. In fact, more people reach for their smartphones first thing in the morning than reach for a toothbrush, coffee or even their partner lying in bed next to them.
A lot of people report that their smartphone addiction is making them increasingly hyperactive and distracted. Interestingly enough, these symptoms of digital stimulation also happen to characterize ADHD. Could our smartphones be afflicting us all, even non-ADHD sufferers, with the well-known neurodevelopmental disorder?
In a study conducted among millennials at the University of Colombia, it was revealed that more frequent phone interruptions made people less attentive and more hyperactive. Inattentiveness covered a wide range of issues, such as making careless mistakes, forgetting to pay a bill, having difficulty listening to others or sustaining attention. Hyperactivity involved fidgeting, feeling restless, excessive talking and interrupting others.
At the same time, it does not suggest that smartphones cause ADHD. Nor does it suggest that reducing phone interruptions can treat ADHD. But is our obsession with our smartphones necessarily a negative thing? What about for people who have ADHD, does their smartphone worsen their symptoms?
Apparently, checking your smartphone can actually increase the dopamine levels in your brain. Receiving likes and comments on social media posts, for instance, can activate pleasure centers in your brain.
A similar reaction has been observed with Tinder, an online dating app. A neuroscience professor at UCLA, explained that if the frontal cortex of your brain decides having a Tinder response is pleasurable, it’s going to give you a shot of dopamine.
ADHD sufferers usually have lower dopamine levels than non-ADHD sufferers, which is why they’re drawn to activities that give instant gratification. If they are doing something they enjoy or find psychologically rewarding, they’ll tend to persist in this behaviour.
Smartphone apps may also offer those afflicted with ADHD more than simply validation. Individuals who suffer with attention-deficit disorder, have a decreased ability to sustain attention and are often easily bored. Since social media and the internet are filled with constantly changing information, the learning environment is more stimulating. These platforms maintain a sense of novelty so it’s easier to keep the person engaged.
Whether your smartphone functions as a conduit for an emotional boost or an opportunity for mental stimulation, it’s no wonder we all have a craving for it. Unfortunately, being afflicted with ADHD-like symptoms, however, comes with downsides. It costs tens of millions of people productivity, true closeness and time each year.
In addition, there are the practical considerations. To foster positive relationships, no one wants to ignore a loved one in the middle of a conversation or space out during a meeting. There’s also the danger of becoming addicted to the good feelings we get when we achieve positive interactions. Consequently, if you’re not receiving the positive feedback you were hoping for, this negatively impacts your feeling of self-worth.
So, should you get rid of your smartphone? Of course not! Do consider, however, silencing your phone, activating “do not disturb” settings or keeping it out of reach once in a while. Because sometimes, don’t our brains deserve a vacation from distractions?
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