Here’s What Smartphones Are Doing to Our Brains

Notifications, inboxes, e-mails, etc. are part of our daily lives and we live a much different life than previous generations.

Now, we fall asleep and wake up with our phones and constantly check our Instagrams to see how many likes we received and how many messages we have in our inbox.

For many people, these interruptions are normal- technology is useful in helping us with our busy lives; however, our bodies and our brains don’t think the same.

Namely, the constant alert state activates our stress hormones and ignites our fight-or-flight response. Consequently, our heartbeat becomes faster, our breathing becomes shallower, we begin to sweat more, and the muscles contract.

This is response which is created to help us avoid danger- so- why are we experiencing it when we’re expecting a call or a text from a colleague?

How Are Phones Influencing Our Well-Being?

The apps on our phones are taking their toll- 89 percent of college students reported experiencing phantom phone vibrations and imagining their phone is buzzing, when it’s not.

Moreover, 86 percent of Americans reported checking their social media accounts and emails 24/7 and it’s really stressful for them.

According to Robert Lustig, an endocrinologist, phone notifications train our brains to be in ongoing state of stress and fear through establishing a stress-free memory pathway.

This means that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain which deals with cognitive function, entirely shuts down. And, we end up doing stupid things which may get us in trouble.

One Thing at a Time for a Healthy Brain

For years, scientists were aware of what people wouldn’t admit to themselves- we’re not meant to multitask and it’s the truth for almost 97.5 percent of the population.

The remaining 2.5 percent have astonishing properties and are called super taskers who can really successfully do several things at once. For example, driving and talking on the phone without compromising their driving skills.

However, as only 1 in 50 individuals have this ability, the remaining ones are best to stick with one thing at a time. Hence, whenever we make a pause to see a notification on our phone, we’re being interrupted and we pay a price which is called the switch cost.

What’s the Switch Cost?

Sometimes, switching from one task to another takes few tenths of a second; however, in a day of all kinds of ideas, conversations, and transactions on our laptop or phone, this switch cost can really increase and thus, make us prone to making mistakes.

For psychologist David Meyer who studies this effect, changing through tasks can take up to 40 percent of our productive brain time.

Whenever we switch tasks, we’re upping our cortisol. And, the switching causes our reasoning and thoughtful prefrontal cortex to sleep and kicks up dopamine- a chemical in the brain which is pivotal in reward and motivation.

That is, the stress we pile up by multitasking when we aren’t able to makes us sick and spikes up our dopamine levels.

The more tasks we perform, the more we need to choose how we’ll use our brain power. Hence, delegating thinking tasks to our phones isn’t just making our brains ill, but is making us lazy too.

According to research, smarter and more analytical thinkers spend less time on their phones than other people. However, this doesn’t mean that if you use your phone for searching that you’ll be dumber- it could mean that these people are searching less because they know better.

Reading up on new info on our phones could be a bad way to learn. According to research, those who learn from books rather than screens can develop better understanding and encourage conceptual thinking.

Checking Facebook is also making young people more depressed. According to researcher, the more frequently people checked their Facebook, the more miserable they were.

Addictive apps are created to reward our brain through spikes of pleasure when our photo is liked or commented. Similarly to gambling, it’s done unpredictably.

This is known as variable ratio schedule and it’s something our brain adores. For Lustig, these apps aren’t necessarily evil- they become an issue when they’re reining over us- interrupt us constantly and trick our brains in wanting more.





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