Why We Can’t Ignore Texts, Tweets, Email, & Facebook

Social Addiction

I recently heard about a table game that people are playing now where everyone at the table puts their cell phone on the table when they first sit down to eat. The object of the game is to see who can go the longest without picking up their phone.

No matter how many times their screen lights up or notification sounds they get, the idea is to ignore it and focus on the relationships at the table. Those who end up succumbing to the temptation are left with splitting the bill in the end. Might be a good way to get a free meal if…If you can resist that is

Social Addiction


Why is it exactly that we feel this irresistible force when it comes to our smart phones and the constant texting, tweeting, and facebooking? Do you ever feel like you are addicted to email or twitter or texting? Do you find it impossible to ignore your email if you see that there are messages in your inbox?

Do you think that if you could ignore your incoming email or messages you might actually be able to get something done at work? You are right!

According to a recent article in Psychology Today,  Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D. in Brain Wise, explains that dopamine is to blame: 

” — Dopamine was “discovered” in 1958 by Arvid Carlsson and Nils-Ake Hillarp at the National Heart Institute of Sweden. Dopamine is created in various parts of the brain and is critical in all sorts of brain functions, including thinking, moving, sleeping, mood, attention, motivation, seeking and reward.”


You may have heard that dopamine controls the “pleasure” systems of the brain: that dopamine makes you feel enjoyment, pleasure, and therefore motivates you to seek out certain behaviors, s

uch as food, sex, and drugs.

Recent research is changing this view. Instead of dopamine causing you to experience pleasure, the latest research shows that dopamine causes seeking behavior. Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search.

According to researcher Kent Berridge,

“If your seeking isn’t turned off at least for a little while, then you start to run in an endless loop. The dopamine system is stronger than the opioid system. You tend to seek more than you are satisfied. “

The Crazy Dopamine Loop

With the internet, twitter, and texting you now have almost instant gratification of your desire to seek. Want to talk to someone right away? Send a text and they respond in a few seconds. Want to look up some information? Just type your request into google. Want to see what your colleagues are up to? Go to Linked In. 

It’s easy to get in a dopamine induced loop. Dopamine starts you seeking, then you get rewarded for the seeking which makes you seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, or stop checking your cell phone to see if you have a message or a new text.

Dopamine “likes” unpredictability. When something happens that is not exactly predictable, that stimulates the dopamine system.

Our emails and twitters and texts show up, but you don’t know exactly when they will, or who they will be from. It’s unpredictable. This is exactly what stimulates the dopamine system.

Why is this addictive?

Just like with Pavlov’s dogs, the dopamine system is especially sensitive to “cues” that a reward is coming. This can be caused by  the notification sound of a new text message or email arriving, which only enhances the addictive effect.

This constant stimulation of the dopamine system can be exhausting. And the constant switching of attention makes it hard to get anything accomplished.


How Do I Get Out of This Dopamine Loop? 

One of the most important things you can do to prevent or stop a dopamine loop, and be more productive is to turn off the cues.

Adjust the settings on your cell phone and on your laptop, desktop or tablet so that you don’t receive the automatic notifications. Automatic notifications are touted as wonderful features of hardware, software, and apps. But they are actually causing you to be like a rat in a cage.

If you want to get work done you need to turn off as many auditory and visual cues as possible. It’s the best way to prevent and break the dopamine loops.


Here’s the research reference: via Psychology Today – Kent C. Berridge and Terry E. Robinson, What is the role of dopamine in reward: hedonic impact, reward learning, or incentive salience?: Brain Research Reviews, 28, 1998. 309–369.

What about you? Do you find yourself in a dopamine loop?

Are you able to shut your devices down without going crazy?

Leave a comment below and let us know what you think…

Social Addiction


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