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Surprising Science

Why Your Brain Is Addicted to Your Computer

The constant stimulation provided by our mobile devices activates the brain’s reward center, like cocaine, but also causes stress by never giving us a break from our responsibilities. 

What’s the Latest Development?

The rapid advance of mobile technology has outrun the biology of our brains, says Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of UCLA’s Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. As a result, we have become a more distracted and more anxious society. “Many of the usual constraints that prevented people from doing things 24 hours a day—like distance and darkness—are falling away,” said Whybrow, who believes that the physiological consequences of this modern mania are dramatic, “contributing to epidemic rates of obesity, anxiety, and depression.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Like any addiction, the immediate pleasures our computers provide us with come at a larger cost to our mental and physical well-being. “The computer is electronic cocaine for many people,” said Whybrow. “Our brains are wired for finding immediate reward. With technology, novelty is the reward. You essentially become addicted to novelty.” When our species was confronted with threats in the past, we either stood our ground and fought or ran away. Either way, the stress of the threat would soon disappear, but not so with the constant pings and rings of mobile devices. This constant stress can cause people to become aggressive and overreactive, says Whybrow. 

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