Sunday, December 3, 2017

"The Neurochemistry of Smartphone Addiction"

It's early days, I mean this is a first-of-its-kind study, and a small one to boot, but the use of magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) and functional (the f in fMRI) MRI's on this topic should take off over the next six months or so and if I were a punter I'd bet the other neurotransmitters, including our old pal dopamine, will be shown to be affected.
So, we're putting these ideas together on the fly and they come out disjointed but there is an ultimate rationale (or, method to the madness).

As stated in the introduction to last month's "Early Facebook investor compares the social network to Nazi propaganda, likens its workers to Goebbels and claims it is creating a climate of 'fear and anger'":
We visited Elevation Partners' Managing Director Roger McNamee on Sunday for a TL;DR version in: "Climateer Line of the Day: Bono's Guy Talks Regulating Facebook and Google".

In that piece I noted our point of attack has been the neurochemistry of deliberately trying to addict your users. The thinking being, this is where the giants are most vulnerable and is the argument most amenable to soundbite journalism/attention - grabbing/framing. Turnabout being fair play and all that....
And today's piece of the puzzle from Psychology Today, Nov. 30:
Smartphone addiction is correlated with neurochemical imbalances in the brain, according to a first-of-its-kind study presented today at the 103rd Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago.

This research was led by Hyung Suk Seo, who is a professor of neuroradiology at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea. The co-authors of this soon-to-be-published paper are Eun-Kee Jeong, Sungwon Choi, Yunna Kwon, Hae-Jeong Park, and InSeong Kim.

For this study, the neuroradiologists used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS)—which is a specialized type of MRI that measures the brain's chemical composition—to gain unique insights into the brains of people who are believed to have developed addictive patterns in their use of digital technology. Interestingly, another study from July 2017 by researchers at Ben-Gurion University in Israel found that heavy smartphone users display changes in social cognition, impaired attention, and reduced right prefrontal cortex (rPFC) excitability.
To identify the severity of smartphone or internet addiction, the South Korean researchers used a standardized smartphone-internet addiction questionnaire. The questions were designed to elucidate the extent that excessive screen time affects someone's daily activities, face-to-face social connectedness, productivity, sleeping patterns, and feelings.

"The higher the score, the more severe the addiction," Dr. Seo said in a statement. Notably, Seo et al. found that smartphone-addicted teenagers had significantly higher scores in depression, anxiety, insomnia severity, and impulsivity....MORE
Depending on which way the causality flows—it might be that the test subjects were driven to excessive phone/app use by pre-existing neurotransmitter imbalances rather than vice versa, we'd then want to look at policy options such as (from the intro to that TL;DR mentioned above):
"Society regulates products that create addiction. We have laws to prevent discrimination and election manipulation. None of these regulations and laws has yet been applied to Facebook and Google.
The time has come."
 Or, from The Automatic Earth's "Tax Them Until They Bleed" post:
Industries that are not productive, but instead only extract money from society, need to be taxed so heavily they have trouble surviving. If that doesn’t happen, your economy will never thrive, or even survive. The whole service economy fata morgana must be thrown as far away as we can throw it. Economies must produce real, tangible things, or they die.
 Just sayin'.