The widespread adoption of smartphones has revolutionized the way that we act, think and communicate; it has replaced past cameras, portable music players, traditional landline phones, alarms, and more. Despite smartphones only having widespread existence for the past decade, they have now become the norm and can be found in the hands of nearly every individual. While the invention of the smartphone indicates a growth in technological progress, there have been several concerns about the growing idea of smartphone addiction.
According to a recent Pew Research Center Study, 46% of Americans say they cannot live without their smartphones. The adverse effects of smartphones have led to a physiological and psychological response, leading researchers to believe that smartphone addiction is akin to an impulse control disorder (ICD), which is characterized by failure to resist a temptation. One dictionary defines “addiction” as the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma. “Addiction,” however, commonly handled by neuropsychiatric departments, is a phenomenon that manifests in tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and dependence, accompanied by social problems. The term was once limited to drugs or substances, but can now also be applied to gambling, Internet, gaming, mobile-phone usage, and other behavioral addictions.
The disorder of internet addiction has recently been considered a form of ICD. Furthermore, a growing number of Americans have developed “nomophobia,” which is a new term indicating the fear of not being able to use your cell phone. Evidence for this growing addiction was found in a study in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, in which adults who were kept separate from their smartphones but were able to hear their phones ringing experienced higher blood pressure and heart rate as well as heightened levels of anxiety. As we as individuals move into a more technologically dependent society, internet addiction and smartphone addiction become serious issues that can alter our psychological and emotional states and also even cause chemical imbalances. Sung Suk Seo, a professor of neuroradiology at Korea University in Seoul, used magnetic resonance spectroscopy, a kind of MRI, to examine levels of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) and other neurotransmitters in the brains of 19 smartphone-addicted teenagers, as well as 19 non-addicted control subjects. His results indicated that levels of GABA were elevated in smartphone-addicted teenagers. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the cortex that is primarily used to counterbalance glutamate levels and typically regulates anxiety. Elevated GABA impairs thinking, inhibition, and motivation and results in a state of constant anxiety and stress, often contributing to aggression and depression.
In a study conducted on university students, the aim was to investigate the relationship between smartphone use and depression. Surprisingly, not only was a positive correlation noted between smartphone use and depression, furthermore females scored higher on smartphone addiction scale scores than males. This concluded the finding that anxiety and stress are positively correlated to smartphone overuse. Furthermore, brain waves are altered by levels of addiction. Typically, there are five main brain waves that can be seen on an electroencephalography, commonly referred to as an EEG, including alpha, beta, delta, theta, and gamma waves. Theta brain waves are the focus of this study as they occur in sleep but also in deep meditation and during the period of learning, memory, and intuition. Theta waves are also the site of GABA release, the neurotransmitter whose elevated levels lead to stress, and so the magnitudes of theta waves were heightened during addicted states..
Smartphones have quickly become an indispensable part of the lives of most people, but we are just beginning to understand their neurological and psychological effects, and early studies show some alarming results as to the effect these new devices are having on the evolution of the human brain.
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- Demirci. Kadir, Akgonul. Mehmet, Akpinar. Abdullah. Relationship of smartphone use severity with sleep quality, depression, and anxiety in university students. Department of Psychiatry, Research and Training Hospital, School of Medicine, Süleyman Demirel University, Isparta, Turkey.
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- Kwon M, Lee J-Y, Won W-Y, Park J-W, Min J-A, Hahn C, et al. (2013) Development and Validation of a Smartphone Addiction Scale (SAS).
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- Radiological Society of North America. “Smartphone addiction creates imbalance in brain, study suggests.” ScienceDaily.