Smartphone addiction: Psychologists liken phones to slot machines

KHOU 11's Shern-Min Chow reports

HOUSTON -- Be honest.  How much time do you spend on your cell phone? On average, Americans spend nearly five hours a day on their smart phones, according to Informate Mobile Intelligence.  How addicted we are?  And how can you break the cycle if you want. 

We can't walk, talk, drive, work or play without them - our cell phones.  

That’s hardly a newsflash for most families.  Jerry Cunningham says, “I do a lot of internet browsing, sports.  I’m on ESPN, play a lot of games.” 

How long is his fiancée on the phone?  Yarami Villalon says, “Probably 15 out of the 24 hours a day.” 

Yarami figures she sends 150 texts a day.  She loves Instagram and Snapchat.   She’s a hairdresser and says, “When I finish a client, I go straight to check my phone.”  What’s her big reward?  Yarami answers, “Nothing.  I just open up the same thing I opened five minutes ago.”

The reward is a shot of dopamine.  Psychologists liken cell phones to slot machines.  UT Health McGovern Medical School Addiction researcher Dr. Jin Yoon https://med.uth.edu/psychiatry/research/addiction/faculty/  explains, “Getting a text or seeing a “like” or positive message on social media - you don't know when it’s going to happen.  It's unpredictable and happens frequently enough it rewards that behavior, so you check it regularly over and over again.” 

Villalon’s son, 16 year old Danny Flores figures he's on the phone 12 hours a day.  He shops and loves social media.

Danny says, “I'm on Snapchat.  I'm on the Kylie app.  It’s a Kylie Jenner app.”

Social media is huge.  Experts warn though, placing too much weight on social validation can feed a vicious cycle.  Dr. Yoon says, “(It can) make you uniquely vulnerable to constantly checking to receive that validation.”  Yoon, a psychologist adds, “If someone starts bullying you, you might be more adversely affected.”

A more common result of staring at the bright screens is poor sleep.  According to a survey released by AT&T and the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, 61 percent of Americans go to bed with their phones.  Danny has trouble sleeping, saying “I get a lot of notifications.”   Danny is afraid he'll miss something.  

There are apps like Apples Night Shift https://www.cnet.com/how-to/how-to-enable-night-shift-in-ios-9-3/ to help turn down your screen's brightness when the sun goes down.  Other apps lock you out of certain features during certain hours like AppDetox https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=de.dfki.appdetox  or those such as Lifesaver https://lifesaver-app.com/ that won’t allow texting, when you phone is moving in car.

Of course they only work, if you use them.

© 2017 KHOU-TV


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