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How Smartphone Apps Create Addictive Patterns and How We Can Find a Healthy Balance with Our Ph

The average American spends seven hours a day looking at a screen. About half of that time is spent on a mobile device. Teenagers have a bit higher times than adults, but not by much. There are 21 countries who spend more time on their devices than the US. Some of the countries that scored really high are the Philippines, Brazil, and South Africa. European countries, for the most part, were lower than us.

smartphone addiction


During the pandemic, mobile screen time jumped 30%. However, globally this year there were many drops in screen time in different countries. The Philippines had the largest drop, an hour and 15 minutes. The US's drop in screen time over the last year was five minutes.


Here's the reason smartphones are so addictive.


#1 Firstly, we are addicted to the apps, not necessarily the phone. Phone apps rely on the same addictive qualities as slot machines

because of dopamine. Dopamine is released after a pleasant experience, such as winning tokens on a slot machine, eating something that tastes really good, or a social interaction. Our phone apps create an inconsistent social interaction.


And this is key. It is an inconsistent social interaction, such as a single text or a like on social media. During these social stimulations dopamine is released. Which feels really good, and feels even better when the interaction comes at an inconsistent basis, meaning we don't know when it's going to come. The app companies and the slot machine people, they all rely on this phenomenon of our human psyche.


#2 The other important piece here is that we build up a tolerance to dopamine, meaning we need more dopamine to feel good. This means we need more and more of these social stimulations to get the same effect. That's what makes the apps more addictive.


#3 On top of that, the third layer here is that this experience comes from something that we can take anywhere. There are no limits. We take our smartphones into the bathroom, everywhere. These three factors make this a very addictive phenomenon. We're getting these inconsistent social reactions. We're building up our tolerance to the dopamine. That's what makes us feel good. And we're able to do it anywhere, anytime.



If you are curious if you are addicted to your smartphone apps, here are a few questions to ask yourself.


Are you having trouble completing tasks?

Are you challenged to feel connected to people in the real world?

Do you get irritated if your online time is interrupted?

Do you conceal your phone by holding it under the table or separate yourself from others to use your phone?

Do you check your phone in the middle of the night?

Do you feel concerned about what you are missing if you do not check your social media?

Do you feel phantom vibrations or hear phantom tones?


Incorporating fifteen minutes a day of mindfulness practice can be a great start to bringing your dopamine levels back into balance. Hiking and walking in silence are also options. With these practices you can decrease your dependence of receiving dopamine hits from your smartphone apps.


Find out more at The Aware Mind Podcast

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