There’s a Reason For Your Urge To Keep Scrolling Through Your Smartphone’s News Feed

Normally, when we think of smartphone addiction, we think of video games or social media, but information-seeking behavior — such as constantly scrolling through the news — can be hazardous to your health as well. It turns out that the need to scroll through the news feed is tied to brain chemistry. Dopamine, a key neurotransmitter, drives our desire to seek information and rewards. This “feel good” chemical is a messenger for reward-seeking, motivation and pleasure. When we experience something pleasurable, our brain releases dopamine, and that makes us want to repeat the action. Discovering new information gives our brain a dopamine boost, and smartphones and apps capitalize on our dopamine system. Every swipe or notification can be a dopamine rush. The element of surprise — whether the next swipe reveals a meme, a news update, or a message — boosts our dopamine even more. This unpredictability mirrors slot machines. You never know when you’ll hit the jackpot, making you play more. However, too much dopamine has its downsides. Over time, frequent dopamine hits from constant scrolling can dull our response. Like drug addicts needing more drugs over time, we might need more screen time or new information for the same dopamine kick. This never-ending search for information can overload us. Balancing out information-seeking behavior can be done by (1) setting limits by designating times for browsing news, (2) stepping away from all screens occasionally to help reset the brain’s dopamine response, (3) choosing wisely and engaging with just a few key topics, and (4) setting your phone to provide fewer non-urgent notifications. By realizing how our brains work in this digital era, we can enjoy tech without letting it control us.