This is Your Brain on Devices: Adam Alter and Addictive Technology

Mar 24, 2017

New book by NYT bestselling author Adam Alter

It’s not only drugs that can cause addiction. New research shows dependence on your smart phone may produce some of the same addictive brain responses. 

In this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks to Adam Alter, an associate professor of marketing at New York University and author of the new book IRRESISTIBLE: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.

According to Alter, the definition of the term “addiction” has expanded over the years to include not only substances, but behaviors as well.

“Even in the 50s and 60s, a lot people were squeamish about using the term [addiction] to describe nicotine use. Now, obviously, we’re quite comfortable saying that you can be addicted to nicotine. The definition has continued to expand over time as psychologists and psychiatrists have recognized that the brain behaves the same way towards addictive experience as it does to addictive substances.”

He says that children are most at risk to experience the long-term effects of a behavioral addiction to technology.

“Basically we all gravitate toward the easiest experience, and we expect the rest of the world to be that way. So, if you’re a child, and the screen is entertaining you all the time, you don’t have to exert any energy. You don’t have to be patient.”

Alter says that for this, and many other reasons, tech giants including Steve Jobs have refused to let their own children near technology. But, there does seem to be hope for future generations.

“I’ve heard from a lot of parents that if they take screens away, kids do become better behaved and more engaged.”

Listen to the interview above to hear Alter discuss the rise of addictive tech behaviors, the psychological tricks that make them so compelling, and how to minimize dangerous behavioral addiction.