It’s a chemical reaction

The neuroscience of digital wellbeing – or – why do I keep reaching for my phone? Or sit at my laptop watching video after video on YouTube? In a word – dopamine.  Dopamine has a reputation as the neurotransmitter of pleasure. As fun as that sounds, dopamine is more about seeking some sort of reward and is linked to our survival.  Our body makes dopamine and uses it to send messages between neurons.  This is one way we are motivated to learn, work, eat, and find pleasure! Dopamine is a busy chemical.  It is made even busier by the design of our devices, apps and software.

Marketers and developers are smart

Developers know a lot about dopamine and our resultant reward-seeking behaviour and use this knowledge in the design of their products.  You open an email or text, gain a new gaming level, check Instagram, Tik Tok or even the news, and ‘ping’ – you’re hit with dopamine, you feel good and repeat.  And the more unexpected the discovery, the more you’re rewarded and the better you feel.  And repeat again, and again. Until 20, 30, 40 minutes or more, have been lost to this reward-seeking behaviour.

This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard this, yet you persist.  Everyday you intend to limit your scrolling, viewing, checking and every day it’s the same.  Why? Because you’re hooked on the dopamine.

So, what can you do about it?

  1. A good start is with the awareness that dopaminergic reward is designed for the benefit of the producer, not us. Ask yourself – who is in control?
  2. Keep track of what you are doing and how you are feeling. Whilst there is a ‘good feeling’ in the moment of accessing new information, how do you feel after a few minutes? After an hour? What have you learned or how have you improved your life? What else could you have done with that time?
  3. How has being connected to devices impacted your time for rest and restoration? To work optimally, our brains need down time, without constant stimulation and release of dopamine. Otherwise, we lose our ability to discern what information is important.

Release your dopamine wisely!  Make it your choice, not someone else’s!

If you found this useful, please don’t forget to check out our previous articles on digital wellbeing.

The importance of digital wellbeing

Managing your digital wellbeing