But smartphones can also foster anxiety and undermine performance. Even hearing one ring or vibrate, produces a welter of distractions that makes it harder to concentrate on a difficult problem or job. The division of attention impedes reasoning and performance. One study found that when a person isn’t able to answer a ring or vibration, blood pressure spikes, the pulse quickens, and problem-solving skills decline.
The evidence that our phones can get inside our heads so forcefully is unsettling a lot like drug addiction. Smartphones have become so entangled with our existence that, even when we’re not peering or pawing at them, they tug at our attention – much like drugs when one is not using them they are thinking of ways and means to get them, diverting precious cognitive resources. Just suppressing the desire to check our phone, which we do routinely and subconsciously throughout the day, can debilitate our thinking.
Nearly all drugs, directly or indirectly, target the brain’s reward system by flooding the circuit with dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter present in regions of the brain that control movement, emotion, motivation, and feelings of pleasure. The overstimulation of this system, which normally responds to natural behaviors that are linked to survival (eating, spending time with loved ones, etc), produces euphoric effects in response to the drugs. This reaction sets in motion a pattern that “teaches” people to repeat the behavior of abusing drugs.
As a person continues to abuse drugs, the brain adapts to the dopamine surges by producing less dopamine or reducing dopamine receptors. The user must therefore keep abusing drugs to bring his or her dopamine function back to ”normal” or use more drugs in an effort to try to achieve a dopamine high.