Researchers have noted a rise in something called Digital Attention Disorder — the addiction to social networks and computers in general.
How does it work? More than 50 years ago, psychologist B.F. Skinner was experimenting on rats and pigeons, and noticed that the unpredictability of reward was a major motivator for animals. If a reward arrives either predictably or too infrequently, the animal eventually loses interest. But when there was anticipation of a reward that comes with just enoughfrequency, the animals’ brains would consistently release dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that (basically) regulates pleasure.
What does this have to do with the internet? Some researchers believe that intermittent reinforcement — in the form of texts, tweets, and various other social media — may be working on our brains the same way rewards did on Skinner’s rats.
“Internet addiction is the same as any other addiction — excessive release of dopamine,” says Hilarie Cash, executive director of the reStart program for internet addiction and recovery, a Seattle-area rehab program that helps wean people off the internet. “Addiction is addiction. Whether it’s gambling, cocaine, alcohol, or Facebook.”