Designed to Addict

Designed to Addict is the title of the second chapter in “The Cyber Effect” by Dr. Mary Aiken.  Although the internet was not designed to addict users, it appears that it is addicting many.  Of course, humans are not passive victims, they are allowing themselves to be addicted.  Dr. Aiken begins with the story of a twenty-two year old mother Alexandra Tobias.  She called 911 to report that her three-month old son had stopped breathing and needed to be resuscitated.  She fabricated a story to make it sound as if an accident had happened, but later confessed that she was playing “Farmville” on her computer and had lost her temper when her baby’s crying distracted her from the Facebook game.  She picked up the baby and shook him violently and his head hit the computer.  He was pronounced dead at the hospital dead from head injuries and a broken leg.

At the time of the incident “Farmville” had 60 million active users and was described by its users in glowing terms as being highly addictive.  It was indeed addictive so that “Farmville” Addicts Anonymous support groups were formed and a FAA page was created on Facebook.    Dr. Aiken found this case interesting as a forensic cyberpsychologist for the following reason:  the role of technology in the escalation of an explosive act of violence.  She described it as extreme impulsivity, an unplanned spontaneous act.

Impulsivity is defined as “a personality trait characterized by the urge to act spontaneously without reflecting on an action and its consequences.”  Dr. Aiken notes “that the trait of impulsiveness influences several important psychological processes and behaviors, including self-regulation, risk-taking and decision making.  It has been found to be a significant component of several clinical conditions, including attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, borderline personality disorder, and the manic phase of bipolar disorder, as well as alcohol and drug abuse and pathological gambling.”  Dr. Aiken takes care to make the distinction between impulsive and compulsive.  Impulsive behavior is a rash, unplanned act, whereas compulsive behavior is planned repetitive behavior, like obsessive hand washing.  She elaborates in cyber terms.  “When you constantly pick up your mobile phone to check your Twitter feed, that’s compulsive.  Then  you read a nasty tweet and can’t restrain yourself from responding with an equally  nasty retort (or an even nastier one), that’s impulsive.”

Joining an online community or playing in a multiplier online game can give you a sense of belonging.  Getting “likes” meets a need for esteem.  According to psychiatrist Dr. Eva Ritvo in her article “Facebook and Your Brain” social networking “stimulates release of loads of dopamine as well as offering an effective cure to loneliness.  These “feel good” chemicals are also triggered by novelty.  Posting information about yourself can also deliver pleasure.  “About 40 percent of daily speech is normally taken up with self-disclosure—telling others how we feel or what we think about something—but when we go online the amount of self-disclosure doubles.   According to Harvard neuroscientist Diana Tamir, this produces a brain respond similar to the release of dopamine.”

Jack Panksepp is a Washington State University Neuroscientist who coined the term affective neuroscience, or the biology of arousing feelings or emotions.  He argues that a number of instincts such as seeking, play, anger, lust, panic, grief, and fear are embedded in ancient regions of the human brain built into the nervous system as a fundamental level.  Panskepp explains addiction as an excessive form of seeking.  “Whether the addict is seeking a hit from cocaine, alcohol, or a Google search, dopamine is firing, keeping the human being in a constant state of alert expectation.”

Addiction can be worsened by the stimuli on digital devices that come with each new email or text to Facebook “like,” so keep them turned off unless there is a good justification for keeping them on, and then only for a designated amount of time.

There is technology to help control addictive behavior.  One of these is Breakfree, an app that monitors  the number of times you pick up your phone, check your email, and search the web.  It offers nonintrusive  notifications and provides you with an “addiction score” every day, eery week, and every month to track your progress.  There are many more such apps such as Checky and Calm, but ultimately it is you who needs to control your addictions.

Mindfulness is a prevalent theme in the healthy memory blog.  It is a Buddhist term “to describe the state of mind in which our attention is directed to the here and now, to what is happening in the moment before us, a way of being kind to ourselves and validating our own experience.”    As a way of staying mindful and keeping track of time online, Dr. Aiken has set her laptop computer to call out the time, every hour on the hour, so that even as she is working in cyberspace, where time flies, she is reminded very hour of the temporal real world.”

Internet addictive behavior expert Kimberly Young recommends three strategies:
1.  Check your checking.  Stop checking your device constantly.
2.  Set time limits.  Control your online behavior—and remember , kids will model
their behavior on adults.
3.  Disconnect to reconnect.  Turn off devices at mealtimes—and reconnect with                  the family.
Some people find what are called internet sabbaths helpful and disconnect for a day or a weekend.  Personally HM believes in having a daily disciplined schedule to prevent a beneficial activity from becoming a maladaptive behavior.

Much more is covered in the chapter, to include compulsive shopping, but the same rule applies.  To be aware of potential addiction monitor your behavior, and make the appropriate modifications.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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