Are Tech Firms Exploiting the Neuroscience of Internet Addiction for Profit?

  • Tobacco, alcohol, drugs… the Internet?
  • “Much of what we do online releases dopamine into the brain’s pleasure centers, resulting in obsessive pleasure-seeking behavior,” reports The Atlantic. “Technology companies face the option to exploit our addictions for profit.”
  • Companies are actively seeking to exploit our newest addiction — the Internet — by creating a “compulsion loop.” Game companies, for example, hook players by rewarding them with new content when they achieve a goal which leads them to work harder to achieve and receive even more.
  • Neuroscience has been able to track how Internet activities can stimulate the neurons of the ventral tegmental area of the midbrain leading it to release the neurotransmitter dopamine to the brain’s pleasure areas.
  • But this behavior goes well beyond games. “We now believe that the compulsion to continually check email, stock prices, and sporting scores on smartphones is driven in some cases by dopamine releases that occur in anticipation of receiving good news,” explains the article. “Indeed, we have grown so addicted to our smartphones that we now experience ‘phantom smartphone buzzing,’ which tricks our brains into thinking our phone is vibrating when it isn’t.”
  • The author, Bill Davidow is trying to manage this situation by actively creating walls around his virtual environment. He answers email only at the office. And when spending time with his wife, daughters and grandsons, he puts the iPhone away. Still, he recognizes, “There is, of course, no simple solution to this problem.”
  • “I’m learning that to function effectively and happily in an increasingly virtual world, I have to commit a significant amount to time to living without it,” concludes Davidow.