When someone shows interest in something we've posted on a social network, we feel happy about it. Why? The brain releases dopamine – the so-called "pleasure and reward hormone" – whenever we receive gratification or positive stimuli (such as eating our favorite food, listening to good music, cooling off in the pool, etc.).
This feeling of well-being also hits us when someone shows their appreciation for one of our photos or a shared post. Today we're going to explore this further....
"The problem was: how can we take as much of our users’ time and attention as possible."
It is now well known that Sean Parker, the hacker who founded Napster when he was 20 and was the first president of Facebook when he was 25… the one who paired Mark Zuckerberg's idea with Peter Thiel's money, says: "It’s technology – and not economics or the government – that is the real driving force behind major social changes." He admits that social media – Facebook first and foremost – were born out of a single question: "How do I consume as much of your conscious time and attention as possible?" They "exploited a vulnerability in human psychology": the need for social recognition.
"We were completely aware of it," he admits, "but we did it anyway. How? "By giving you a little dopamine every now and then through a "like" or new comment on a photo, post, or something else."
Whether Parker's self-criticism is sincere or not, whether he regrets being part of “the machine” or not, science confirms what he said.
Pleasure and reward are activated when we receive certain kinds of stimuli
There is something incredible about technology. It almost sounds like a "modern miracle." Yet, it also requires us to be "bombarded" by a constant stream of stimuli. From every direction come distractions, reminders, advertisements, etc. Social media and video games attack us with their flashing lights; smartphones invade our spaces, our homes, and our social gatherings.
We read in an article entitled Technology, Dopamine, and Addiction : "Because of technological advances, stimuli are everywhere and unstoppable. These cues are much stronger than anything found in nature. Everything is sensationalized. Every signal activates the opioid/dopamine response, and the constant repetition is addictive."
Stimuli activate the pleasure and reward response, producing a feeling of euphoria and a desire for more. When receptors lose their sensitivity, stronger stimulation is needed to receive the same effect. The absence of stimulation triggers anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression increase the motivation to seek more.
Internet Addiction Disorder: a new field of study
As previously explained on our portal, Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) presents symptoms that follow the pattern of any other type of addiction. A person with this disorder shows an obsession over the internet, social media, and/or video games; shows a certain level of compulsivity; and doesn’t control or manage his time well. His "hunger" is only satisfied by more time spent using technology or playing a new game. He experiences symptoms of withdrawal when denied access, including physical and/or emotional distress, anxiety, or depression. And the behavior continues, despite negative consequences – such as family conflict – and despite evidence of social exclusion.
The conclusion we draw is this: technology poses a real health risk. It can have similar effects on us as other addictive and harmful substances. We have to be careful about the time we spend with it, and pay close attention to how children, whose brains and hormones are still developing, experience it. Now, more than ever, they need to be protected.