The net and the brain: a toxic relationship?

 

I always wondered what my small and -hopefully- insignificant obsession with the world wide web was. Why do I like the internet so much? I used to watch a ton, and I mean a ton, of YouTube. I’m in on all the drama over there. I wonder if I watched so much because I wanted to escape my reality or could it actually be the ‘fault’ of social media itself? I feel fine online, but on the other hand I wonder if it ‘prevents’ me to actually take a more ‘hands on’ approach. I decided to look deeper into these questions and this resulted in a  series, which you can read weekly on my blog.

 

Is internet addiction real: the internet and its possible effect on the brain.

 

I do wonder what the difference could be between reading a book or reading online? Could there be a different effect on the brain? When I read a physical book I feel more relaxed. Could it be the holding of the book, the fact that your brain makes a connection through your eyes with an imminent object and not a shape-shifter like my phone that changes with every page? Do you experience a difference between reading a physical book, article or magazine and reading a blog for instance? I watched a video[1] on social media (!) that social media could have a negative effect on memory and concentration. It was suggested that it could leave a profound effect on the brain. Maybe you did notice where you could read a book for a good two hours, you now get fidgety after 45 minutes? Or maybe you get slowly more and more of those days where you’re too tired to work on your projects after work?

When we talk about addiction, dopamine is the star of the show. All addictions show a quick rise of dopamine levels. Dopamine is mostly known as the ‘rewarding’ neurotransmitter.  But it is also in charge of the ‘wanting’. Dopamine reacts strongly to unexpected positive things (positive as it could help us to survive). So when we accidently stumble onto something that enhances the chance of survival, dopamine learns us to repeat that behavior. And we survive, clever isn’t it? Even more clever is that dopamine levels starts to rise when we know a reward is coming. It’s the same thing as Pavlov described with his dogs. The dog gets rewarded with food. Then he rings a bell seconds before the dog gets the food and he observed that the dog would produce saliva when hearing the bell. The body responded, learned, that the bell means food.

 

Dopamine is not about pleasure but about the pursuit of happiness.

 

When dopamine receptors in the brain are bombarded by ‘likes’, the body likes to even that out. Equilibrium is the best way to go, in everything. So the dopamine receptors decrease in the brain. Less receptors, less pleasure. The more dopamine you ‘need’ to get the pleasure. As dopamine is also responsible for motivation and learning, motivation decreases too. We go looking for that one strong dopamine hit and we don’t do have the willpower anymore to do other things that give us less pleasure but are necessary for everyday living. The thing we ‘wanted’ in the beginning wins the race.

 

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How does social media play into changing our brains?

 

The internet is new to our brain and we are curious about our surroundings. Being curious already creates a rise in dopamine levels. When we find new things, we are happy and we keep on searching. Would that not be the case, science would not even exist. Scrolling, swiping and clicking, it’s all novelty seeking behavior.

Here is where the problem lies, we click and we discover new information. Dopamine levels are high. We click again because maybe just a page further there might be that perfect picture you’re looking for for your post. And dopamine levels don’t get the chance to decrease again due to the never ending possibility of a reward. The anticipation is what get us hooked. The anticipation of that good feeling.

With social media the rewards are endless and the cues stem from within: feeling bored? I’ll read a blog, maybe I’ll learn something. Feeling sassy? Maybe I’ll go on Twitter, always drama over there. Feeling lonely? Let’s see if someone send me a mail or a message. Feeling funny? I’ll find the perfect gif to send to Pierre. And you get the gist here.

Just everywhere  and at any given time, you can get that small hit of dopamine. As the loop to your dopamine centers gets stronger by using them more frequently, the loop to your prefrontal cortex is less visited and gets a bit dusty. The prefrontal cortex is where planning, willpower and motivational centers are located. A more active lifestyle so to speak. But as the road to willpower is less traveled by, it gets weaker and can’t compete anymore with the circuit of the dopamine centers. Constant novelty on a click, can cause addiction and change your brain.

 

What now, do we quit the internet all together?

 

Internet addiction is an impulse disorder [2] by which an individual experiences…

  1.  intense preoccupation with using the Internet
  2. difficulty managing time on the Internet
  3. becoming irritated if disturbed whilst online
  4. decreased social interaction in the real world

To be honest …. I do check a few of the boxes. How about you? Do you experience these things?

If you answered yes on previous questions, there are some pointers on how to cope better with the net. Your phone is always in your bag or pocket to relief the boredom while waiting for the train. We respond to the situation. When we control the situation by checking the net at a set time, we are in control. Off course we can learn new things and discover but we need to let the dopamine levels decrease in order to relax. When we use the internet with a purpose and start with having a defined time for aimless scrolling, we will also learn how to deal with the net. The goal is here to have a balance between the dopamine centers and the prefrontal cortex. So you can spend more time to matters to you.

And you, how do you use the internet? Do you relate to this post? Do you limit your internet use or do feel it’s a all a bit blown out of proportion? Let me know in the comments, I’m happy to read them on my set time to read blogs.

 

 

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UsI9CXHm6o

[2] Tikhonov MN, Bogoslovskii MM. Internet addiction factors. Automatic Documentation and Mathematical Linguistics. 2015;49(3):96–102. doi: 10.3103/S0005105515030073.

 

 

18 thoughts on “The net and the brain: a toxic relationship?

  1. Yes! can definitely relate to it.Especially the thing about difficulty managing time on the Internet,becoming irritated if disturbed whilst online and not being able to read books like i used to before. I also find myself a little more stressed,easily irritable and lazy on the days where i have used internet the most. But it is necessary for many things so i am trying to limit it to just them and try my best to find a balance.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes the balance is key I think. The net can be sneaky and it’s so easy accessible for us. But maybe when we are aware of it, it will have a better outcome on our lifes. I’m glad I’m not alone! 🙂

      Like

  2. For me what matters is costs and consequences: is my internet use forcing me to sacrifice things that are valuable to me, and is the way I’m using the internet causing negative consequences. I spend a lot of time online, but the vast majority is spent on things that are meaningful to me, so I don’t have any concerns about it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. For me it’s 50% 50%, 50% meaningful things and 50% just brainless occupation. I’m used to over-do things so I get easily lost in the interwebz. Like you said, when there are negative consequences, it’s time to adjust. I notice that my sleep quality and concentration go down when I spent too much time online regardless if I love what I do there or not. So for me it is a point to take into consideration.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I definitely limit my internet time these days and Ive removed my self from a lot of social media because I find its a concentration drain, then it just makes you feel bad. So now I mostly try to use it for productive things.

    Excellent post Kachai.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I need to set some limits too, that is why I decided to look into it a little. I agree with you on social media, you need to make it work for you and not get caught up in it. Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m addicted to many things. Smart phone, internet, social media, blogging…..and some things that shall remain nameless. I have bipolar and addiction is common with bipolar. I just wish I could become addicted to exercise!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha, that wouldn’t be too good either, addicted to exercise. Imagine all the muscles you would have 😀 The internet has different ways to get you hooked as you say. But I’m glad you red and commented on social media! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Actually now that I think of it, bipolar has a high comorbidity with substance abuse, not addiction. Yep, I’m guilty of that. Or was. I don’t even drink anymore!

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I am addicted to internet, my phone, lying in bed, vaping. I’m definitely an “escaper”. When I feel stress I hide. I used to be addicted to cocaine. Then alcohol. But I beat those. The phone/internet addiction is worse. If I can’t find my phone I go absolutely ape shit

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can relate with the escapism. It takes different formes. I hide too! Sometimes the stress is too much and we find an escape in all kind of things. There only so much I can work on. But maybe blogging is not so harmful and you get to know nice people 🙂 Thank you for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

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