This Is Your Brain On Technology

Scott & White Psychologist Explains How We Can Become Addicted To Our Devices

A man on vacation with his family in Hawaii excuses himself from his lawn chair on the beach and heads back to his hotel room. His pulse races and he’s riddled with anxiety until he can log on to his computer.

“He said that he felt relieved after he checked his work e-mail,” David R. Blackburn, Ph.D. said. “But at what cost? He was leaving his family on vacation to get on his computer.”

Dr. Blackburn said there’s nothing wrong with checking your e-mail, but when you have to check it to feel comforted or less anxious, that is considered addictive behavior.

Studies have shown that because technology like social networks, e-mails and live chatting provide instant gratification, your brain receives a rush of dopamine, which gives the body pleasure.

“This effect is part of why these technologies are so addicting,” Dr. Blackburn said. “You post pictures, you chat with Web cams and you get absorbed in it. And then it starts to affect your day-to-day life.”


The clinical psychologist said that the medical and business communities, who are known for being too attached to their electronic devices, jokingly call Blackberrys, Crack-berrys.

“Physicians will be at a social gathering and they’re carrying them around with them,” he said. “When they’re looking down at the table, they’re not checking to see if they spilled something on their clothes, they’re checking their e-mail.”

This obsession with constantly being connected has caused our society to actually be more disconnected to each other than ever before, Dr. Blackburn said.

“With things like Facebook and MySpace, you are connecting, but you’re connecting with a box,” he said. “You lose that personal interaction. You can’t pick up facial cues. How can you tell if someone is happy or disappointed with what’s typed on a computer screen?”

And the lack of personal interaction is going to affect the next generation the most.

“Their relationships won’t be healthy,” he said. “They will be much more shy and withdrawn because they haven’t developed social skills.”

Being attached to technological devices at an early age can even be linked to obesity in children and lack of concentration, Dr. Blackburn said.

“Children get distracted by these devices and they have trouble doing their academic work,” he said. “They are really skilled at getting 10,000 points on an online game, but they can’t focus on their homework and they aren’t getting any physical exercise.”

But our society isn’t a lost cause. There are steps parents can take to combat these technology addictive behaviors in their children and in themselves.

“The way you combat addiction is by recognizing there’s a problem and doing something about it,” Dr. Blackburn said. “Limit the distractions. Disconnect the devices and reconnect with each other.”

The psychologist said there are many mental health professionals at Scott & White who are equipped to help people with this particular addiction. Ask your primary care physician for a recommendation or call 254-724-2111 for help in locating the department of psychiatry.

Below are some warning signs to look for if you think you or loved one might be suffering from technology addiction:

  • Easily distracted
  • Overly anxious over checking e-mails or other electronic devices
  • Tense
  • Impatient
  • Inability to relax until caught up on the computer
  • Irritable when not around electronic devices
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the need to constantly be connected

About the author

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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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This Is Your Brain On Technology