Posts Tagged ‘Behavioral addiction’

The Role of Artificial Intelligence

March 31, 2019

This is the fourth post based on an important book by Roger McNamee titled “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.” Companies like Facebook and Google use artificial intelligence (AI) to build behavioral prediction engines that anticipate our thoughts and emotions based on patterns found in the vast amount of data they have accumulated about users. Users of likes, posts, shares, comments, and Groups have taught Facebook’s AI how to monopolize our attention. As a result, Facebook can offer advertisers exceptionally high-quality targeting.

This battle for attention requires constant innovation. In the early days of the internet the industry learned that a user adapts to predictable ad layouts, skipping over them without registering any of the content. There’s a tradeoff when it comes to online ads. Although it is easy to see that the right person is seeing the ad, it is much harder to make sure that the person is paying attention to the ad. The solution to the latter problem is to maximize the time users spend on the platform. If users devote only a small percentage of attention to the ads they see, then they try to monopolize as much of the users’ attention as possible. So Facebook as well as other platforms add new content formats and products to stimulate more engagement. Text was enough at the outset. Next came photos, then mobile. Video is the current frontier. Facebook also introduces new products such as Messenger and, soon, dating. To maximize profits, Facebook and other platforms hide the data on the effectiveness of ads.

Platforms prevent traditional auditing practices by providing less-than-industry-standard visibility. Consequently advertisers say, “I know half my ad spending is wasted; I just don’t know which half. Nevertheless, platform ads work well enough that advertisers generally spend more every year. Search ads on Google offer the clearest payback, but brand ads on other platforms are much harder to measure. But advertisers need to put their message in front of prospective customers, regardless of where they are. When user gravitate from traditional media to the internet, the ad dollars follow them. Platforms do whatever they can to maximize daily users’ time on site.

As is known from psychology and persuasive technology, unpredictable, variable rewards stimulate behavioral addiction. Like buttons, tagging, and notifications trigger social validation loops. So users do not stand a chance. We humans have evolved a common set of responses to certain stimuli that can be exploited by technology. “Flight or fight” is one example. When presented with visual stimuli, such as vivid colors, red is a trigger color—or a vibration agains the skin near our pocket that signals a possible enticing reward, the body responds in predictable ways, such as a faster heartbeat and the release of dopamine are meant to be momentary responses that increase the odds of survival in a life-or-death situation. Too much of this kind of stimulation is bad for all humans, but these effects are especially dangerous in children and adolescents. The first consequences include lower sleep quality, an increase in stress, anxiety, depression, and inability to concentrate, irritability, and insomnia. Some develop a fear of being separated from their phone.
Many users develop problems relating to and interacting with people. Children get hooked on games, texting, Instagram, and Snapchat that change the nature of human experience. Cyberbullying becomes easy over social media because when technology mediates human relationships, the social cues and feedback loops that might normally cause a bully to experience shunning or disgust by their peers are not present.

Adults get locked into filter bubbles. Wikipedia defines filter bubbles as “a state of intellectual isolation that can result from personalized searches when a website algorithms selectively guesses what information a user would like to see.

Irresistible

April 12, 2017

“Irresistible” is the title of a book by Adam Alter.  Its subtitle is “The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.”  This is an important book because it addresses an important problem, the addiction to computer games.  The World of Warcraft (WOW) is perhaps the most egregious example in which lives have been and are continuing to be ruined.  The statistics will not be belabored here.  They are well presented in “Irresistible” along with numerous personal stories.  “Behavioral addiction” was discussed in a previous healthymemory blog post “Beware the Irresistible Internet.”  There is a series of posts based on Dr. Mary Aiken’s book, “The Cyber Effect” that has addressed this problem. Additional healthy memory posts on this topic can be found by entering “Sherry Turkle” into the search block of the healthymemory blog.  What is especially alarming is that Adam Alter makes a compelling argument that game makers are getting better at making their games irrestible, that is behaviorally addicting.

Of course, not all games are bad.  “Gamification”  is a term for games devoted to beneficial ends, such as education.  This can be very beneficial when learning, that could be tedious, is transformed into an entertaining game, which could be played for its entertainment value alone.  Good arguments can be made for these games provided that their educational benefits are documented.  However, even if it were possible, it would be dangerous if all of education were gamefied.  Not everything in life is enjoyable, and part of the educational process should be learning to assure the students persevere even when learning becomes difficult and frustrating.

Alter also does a commendable review of treatments for behavioral addictions and preventive measures to decrease the likelihood of addiction.  The book begins with Steve Jobs telling the New York Times journalist Nick Bilton that his children never used the iPAD, “We limit how much technology our kids use in theme.”  Bolton discovered that other tech giant imposed similar restrictions.  A former editor of “Wired,” Chris Anderson, enforced strict time limits on every device in his home, “because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand.”  After relating the way tech giants controlled their childrens’ access to technology lAlter wrote, “It seemed as if the  people producing tech products were following the cardinal rule of drug dealing:  never get high on your own supply.”

Perhaps one of the most informative studies related in “Irresistible” is not specifically about addiction.  It related a paper published by eight psychologists in the journal “Science.”  In one study they asked a group of undergraduate students to sit quietly for twenty minutes.  They were told that their goal was to entertain themselves with your thoughts as best you can.  That is, your goal should be to have a pleasant experience, as opposed to spending time focusing on everyday activities or negative things.”  The experimenters hooked up  to a machine that administers electric shocks, and gave them a sample shock  to show that the experience of being shocked isn’t pleasant.   The students were told that they could self-administer the shock if they wanted to, but that “Whether you do so is completely up to you.”  It was their choice.
One student shocked himself one hundred and ninety times.  That’s once every six seconds, over and over for twenty minutes.   Although he was an outlier, two thirds of all male students and about one in three female students shocked themselves at least once.  Many shocked themselves more than once.  By their own admission in a questionnaire they didn’t find the experience pleasant, so they preferred to endure the unpleasantness  of a shock to the experience of sitting quietly with their thoughts.

Upon rereading this experiment HM became convinced that the teaching of mindfulness and meditation should be mandatory in the public school.  If so these students would have taken advantage of the situation to be “in the present ” and to meditate, just as they would if they found themselves stuck in traffic or being forced to wait.  (See the healthy memory blog post, “SPACE”)

Perhaps HM is a “goody two-shoes” but he has never been attracted to games.  He never cared how much he scored on a pin ball machine.  He is the same with respect to computer games.  They strike him as pointless activities, so he never plays them.

It strikes HM that public education is avoiding a key responsibility.  Students need to understand from an early age that their time on earth is limited.  This should not send them into panic or to avoid enjoyable pursuits.  But a question should be asked regarding any pursuit is what value does the pursuit have.  It is okay for some pursuits to be pursued for enjoyment alone.  But there are also pursuits, which in addition to being enjoyable, provide both personal benefits as well as societal benefits.

Ideally one should pursue a life with purpose as was related in the posts on Victor Strecher’s book “Life on Purpose.”  This provides for a benefiting an fulfilling life.  In the healthymemory blog post “SPACE” Stretcher argues for pursuing a healthy lifestyle to further the ends of living a life with purpose.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. 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.

Beware the Irresistible Internet?

October 20, 2010

The title is taken from the New Scientist1. I turned their title into a question. One of the themes of the Healthymemory Blog is that transactive memory, of which the internet is a very large part, is good for you. It provides resources not only for maintaining a healthy memory, but also for personal growth and enhancement. Consequently, I might be unduly sensitive about articles that are critical of the internet.

One criticism is that people can become behaviorally addicted to the internet. A behavioral addiction is a recurring compulsion to act in specific ways which may be detrimental on the person’s well being. Psychiatrists, however, are not happy with the notion of a “behavioral” addiction. For them, addictions need to be physically based like alcohol or heroin addictions. So they use the term “impluse control disorder.”

The New Scientist article cites the case a court in Hawaii allowing a 51 year old online gamer to proceed with a case against NC Interactive. He claims that NC Interactive’s online game Lineage II contained insufficient warnings regarding its addictiveness (make that impulse control disorderliness for any psychiatrists reading this article). He claims to have spent 20,000 hours playing this game since 2004. I’ll leave it to the reader to draw conclusion regarding a court that would allow such a lawsuit to proceed, but I find it ludicrous to portray the user as a helpless victim.

I do not deny that there are people who, due to their abdication of personal responsibility, do engage in maladaptive behaviors (or impulse controls). And I am pleased that there are programs designed to help people get over these maladaptive behaviors (or impulse controls). But I believe that any effective program has at its core the willingness of people to accept responsibility for their behavior.

Although I am a strong advocate of the potential of the internet for cognitive health and personal development, I do not believe that all internet behavior is beneficial. In most cases, I think the result is the simple wasting of time; nothing dramatic like a behavioral or impulse control disorder. It is a good idea to conduct personal audits periodically to assess whether we are using are time wisely. I would include time spent on entertainment, recreation, or relaxation as time spent wisely, provided there are no adverse effects.

1Marks, P. (2010). Beware the Irresistible Internet, 11 September, 24-25.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. 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.