Can’t Imagine Your Day Without Your Smartphone? Blame Dopamine!

Can’t Imagine Your Day Without Your Smartphone? Blame Dopamine!

Did you ever reach for your phone to send a message, only to find yourself browsing for cute puppies’ videos an hour later?

Did you ever bump into someone (Or something. Ouch!) while walking down the street because you were looking down at your phone?

I assure you, you are not alone. (There is even a walking lane in China for people like us!)

It is very hard to “live in the moment” and stay focused when there are so many things demanding our immediate attention.

On the other hand, technology is changing so fast that we don’t have the time to develop appropriate “tech etiquette” or acceptable forms of behavior when it comes to utilizing it.

For example, it is worrying that even though we all know we should not text and drive, an alarmingly high number of people still does it.  What is even more alarming is that a lot of them don’t see a problem with it.

77% of young adult drivers are confident they can safely text and drive at the same time

It is ok to go out with our friends and spend most of the time looking at our mobile phone? I think we all agree that it is not. But is it ok to quickly respond to just one tiny little e-mail while being with the same friends? Debate is still open on that one.

Did you ever wonder why that is: Why are we so attached to our latest gadgets that we start feeling panicky at the smallest sign we might be left without them?

Scientists have.

Scope of the Problem


Many studies have been conducted over the last couple of decades on the topic of our digital dependence, ways in which constant use of technology affects our brains and how we interact with other people, and ways it affects our productivity and health.

They confirm what we have been instinctively suspecting – high levels of technological dependence.

Average person checks their phone about 150 times a day

Let’s think about this for a minute.

Every few minutes we pause whatever we are doing to check our phones. Worse, we are interrupted by something that is in no way connected to what we are doing at the moment. Not to mention that we need 23 minutes and 15 seconds on average to get back to the task again.

Does this mean that we are never fully concentrated?

People consider Facebook and Twitter to be the hardest aspect of modern life to quit. Full list can be found here. For the reference, smoking came fourth.

This data is not surprising considering that social networks represent the most common way of communicating with people today.

And children are noticing that something is off too.

Almost 70% of children think that their parents spend too much time on their mobile phone, Tablet or similar devices

One in five interviewed children reported that their parents do not listen to them properly when they are together because they are so busy checking their emails.

These stats are something to think about. But let’s not throw away our beloved gadgets just yet. If we examine the core of the problem a bit more closely we might get better at solving it.

The main culprit – Dopamine


They main culprit for our attachment to all things digital is dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control reward and pleasure centers of our brain.

For a long time it was thought that dopamine controls the “pleasure” systems of the brain, but recent research indicates that dopamine causes seeking behavior.

In her article for Psychology Today, Dr. Susan Weinschenk explains how dopamine system works. Here is what you need to know:

1.     It motivates us to undertake actions that will ultimately result in pleasure.

When we reach for our phone to check the time and see a notification for received message our curiosity is piqued. In that second we need to open the message and see its content we are already high on dopamine because of anticipation of good news. And if the message is from a person we care about or the news are indeed good, we are rewarded by pleasure.

2.     The desire for pleasure is even greater than pleasure itself and it keeps us hungry for more.

Satisfaction we feel because of connecting with another person is short term and in desire to prolong it we go searching for more stimuli.

We may decide to check our social media accounts in search of new connections and new information. If we find what we are looking for, our neurological response only serves as a positive reinforcement and makes us search more.

3.     It is very hard to break out of dopamine loop when almost everything we do provides us with instant gratification.

Want to chat with someone? There are many apps available for that.

What to check out upcoming concert dates for your city? Just google it.

4.     Uncertainty reinforces seeking behavior.

We never know when we are going to hear that ding announcing incoming text or email and that is what makes us on the edge of our seats. We anticipate it and that uncertainty keeps our dopamine levels high.

This is one of the reasons why people on average check their phones every 6 and a half minutes even when there is no apparent reason.

5.     Dopamine system is most powerfully stimulated when the information coming in is small so that it doesn’t fully satisfy our desire for knowledge.

That is also why Twitter can be especially addicting. Most often, we cannot get all the information we need in 140 characters. Our hunger for information is not fully satisfied –that tweet serves only as a “teaser trailer” for a movie we really, really, want to see – and keeps us searching for more.

Is it possible to break the dopamine loop?


Yes, it is.

Our dopamine system is conditioned to activate in presence of cues that signalize that something rewarding is going to happen. That is why we react to blinking notification lights on our phone much like Pavlov’s dogs – ‘salivating’ in anticipation of upcoming pleasure.

The key is to reduce audio and visual cues surrounding us. For example, by turning off push notification on our mobile phones or tablets so they don’t interrupt us while working or being otherwise engaged.

What about you? Do you thing we are too attached to technology surrounding us? How would you fight it?

For more information about how dopamine works and why it is highly unlikely you will ignore that message you just received, check out this video:



The goal of this blog post is to spread the values of self-appreciation and importance of taking care of ourselves, and give you a place where you can feature who you are and celebrate your achievements. All of these values are going to be embodied in “ME Day” celebration on March 16th, 2015.

Picture credits:



Sanja Gardasevic

Digital marketing professional with a passion for technology, creative challenges, and giving back to the community.

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