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Cellphones Medicine Science Technology

Controversial Study Claims 'Smartphone Addiction' Alters the Brain (inverse.com) 64

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Inverse: In the new paper, presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, a team of radiologists at Korea University report that smartphone addiction changes teenagers' brains. Using brain imaging, they argue that smartphone- and internet-addicted teenagers have imbalanced brain chemistry when compared to their peers who aren't addicted to smartphones or the internet. But scientists not involved with the study have some serious issues with their research. Perhaps the most important of these issues is the fact that "smartphone addiction" is not a scientifically established thing -- at least not yet.

In the study, the team led by Dr. Hyung Suk Seo used "standardized internet and smartphone addiction tests to measure the severity of internet addiction" in nine boys and 10 girls, according to a statement. Then, they used MRS, a brain imaging technique that can identify particular brain chemicals, to examine the participants' brains before and after taking nine weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy to help their "addiction." Compared to a control group, the "smartphone addicts" had skewed levels of neurotransmitters in their brains. In particular, they had a higher ratio of GABA to Glx (glutamateglutamine), which are respectively responsible for slowing down brain signals and exciting neurons. An elevated ratio of GABA to Glx, the researchers concluded, can be associated with the self-reported symptoms of the "smartphone addict" teens, including depression, anxiety, insomnia severity and impulsivity. After 12 of the teens participated in cognitive behavior therapy, the scientists report, their chemical imbalances appeared to even out to look more like the control group's.

Controversial Study Claims 'Smartphone Addiction' Alters the Brain

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 01, 2017 @10:42PM (#55662279)

    The reward addiction craving is the affecting condition, there's nothing inherently different about cell phone addiction than gambling or cocaine as far as your dopamine reward.

    • Narcotics interfere with your brain's ability to use certain neurotransmitters. Stopping narcotics cold turkey, in general, is a bad idea, as your brain won't function properly without them. You need to be weened off, usually with a different, analog substance.

      Gambling and the internet you can quit cold turkey. You'll be really, really upset, but you won't go through the same physical withdrawal symptoms as with narcotics.

      So, no, a cocaine addiction isn't like a gambling addiction at all.

    • Actually this is worse than drug addiction as it screws up your attention and emotions, so important for your as a person. Social media is the opposite of meditation. It just trains your distraction and unless you abstract yourself from it, the emotional draining from social media are going to make you numb. Screwed up dopamine receptors are going to help with that too.

      Pitty the facecrack article is down on google results because it's so gold.

      davidrainoshek.com/2013/06/how-facebook-fb-is-altering-your-mind-

  • by wolfheart111 ( 2496796 ) on Friday December 01, 2017 @11:15PM (#55662347)
    sitting in front of the screen is hypnotic. Some play sit on their smartphone, some play facebook games... others (like myself) sit and code for days on end...
    • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Saturday December 02, 2017 @12:44AM (#55662507)

      sitting in front of the screen is hypnotic.

      Actually, that's not what this is about. Smartphone addiction is a real thing not because of the amount of uninterrupted time but because of the compulsion and ability to interrupt other activities to satisfy their desire.

      Some play sit on their smartphone, some play facebook games... others (like myself) sit and code for days on end...

      The difference here is that an avid coder could go on vacation for a week without coding. A smartphone addict on vacation without their smartphone for a week is going to have actual withdraw symptoms.

      The real difference here is that the smartphone is a device that can provide constant feedback and it's engineered purposely to behave like that. A lot of neuroscience has gone into the design of application to ensure that they develop what cannot be described as anything except an addiction. They did this with websites (like facebook) too but it wasn't nearly as successful until they had a LOT of people that always had immediate access to their platform. That immediate access is essential to forming the addiction.

    • The dark inside of the cubicle is a pathway to many abilities, some consider to be ... unnatural

  • by boudie2 ( 1134233 ) on Friday December 01, 2017 @11:34PM (#55662377)
    "I Was A Teenage Smartphone Addict". They turned a generation into drooling smartphone junkies willing to do anything except work for their next fix.
    • If the zombies don't get run over wandering to the cinema then it will be a big box office hit!

      • by slick7 ( 1703596 )

        If the zombies don't get run over wandering to the cinema then it will be a big box office hit!

        How about "Smartphone Madness "? No matter how you look at it, the service providers will still bleed you dry with their monthly fees.

      • It's funny because it's true.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So it must be legitimate, no?

  • by IonOtter ( 629215 ) on Friday December 01, 2017 @11:57PM (#55662411) Homepage

    "You don't say?"

    People are acting like this isn't desirable in an economy that relies upon consumption of media for profit and control.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    [...] before and after taking nine weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy to help their "addiction." Compared to a control group, [...]

    The control group should have had the same therapy. They didn't. Value of study: zero.

    Conclusion: probably (state-sponsored) propaganda.

  • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Saturday December 02, 2017 @12:02AM (#55662431)

    Your brain is 'plastic' - it alters in response to use. It strengthens and prunes connections over time. Bits of it can atrophy.

    So yes, if you habitually perform some task, it's going to show up as a change in sufficiently accurate before and after fMRIs. This isn't news, it's been studied before.

    • by slick7 ( 1703596 )

      Your brain is 'plastic' - it alters in response to use. It strengthens and prunes connections over time. Bits of it can atrophy.

      So yes, if you habitually perform some task, it's going to show up as a change in sufficiently accurate before and after fMRIs. This isn't news, it's been studied before.

      Come on EMP! The great technical equalizer.

  • by bobstreo ( 1320787 ) on Saturday December 02, 2017 @12:29AM (#55662479)

    The addiction usually removes a lot of people from the gene pool via vehicular distraction or stepping off the curb without looking.

  • by hcs_$reboot ( 1536101 ) on Saturday December 02, 2017 @01:09AM (#55662567)
    Even when "controversial" is not mentioned, most of these studies are controversial. What about reading, does reading addiction alter the brain? Yes, but not in the same way.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    First of all:

    It has long been known that the human brain is altered by the simple act of learning anything.

    If you repeat something over and over, like walking or flipping a light switch, your brain changes in subtle ways to optimize these processes.

    If you sit in a lecture hall and listen to a boring professor, your brain changes in subtle ways.

    If your significant other rewards you for something with a kiss, your brain changes some tiny amount.

    It's not just formal "learning" but ALL forms of learning that ca

  • by VeryFluffyBunny ( 5037285 ) on Saturday December 02, 2017 @01:33AM (#55662593)
    The statistical power of n=12 is questionable as is the fact that the study seems to be based on a number of assumptions. Does the paper end with "more research is needed"?
    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      The statistical power of n=12 depends on the effect size. What such a small sample means though is that any small (or not so small) errors like poor analysis, bad sampling, or poor blinding are more likely to have a meaningful effect.

      What is concerning is that in vivo MR spectroscopy is a very noisy technique, and distinguishing GABA and glx are among the harder things you can choose to measure. It's difficult to believe that they could reliably see differences in such a small group.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm impressed that they managed to even FIND a statistically significant number of teenagers aren't addicted to smartphones or the internet. :/

  • by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert@slashdoTOKY ... e.com minus city> on Saturday December 02, 2017 @03:55AM (#55662811) Homepage

    Kim Jong Un is heroically helping his people avoid addiction by banning the use of mobile phones.

  • In other news, watching too many advertisements alters the brain. Also, in other other news, water is wet.
  • Instant-ignored.

  • Another important point is that even if you assume internet addiction is a thing and they have good tests for it, they still haven't proven the direction of causality. It's also possible that the addicts' brains were different to start with and those differences made they susceptible to addiction. It's a classic cum hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy.

  • http://press.rsna.org/timssnet... [rsna.org] The official press release details the actual brain area in which this metabolism change was studied. The anterior cingulate cortex is involved in pretty much everything (attention, task-switching, self-monitoring, etc), so not super surprising but pretty cool nonetheless. Also not really "controversial", as any substantial behavioral change will necessarily produce corresponding changes in brain activity...Good to see that it can be reversed though.
  • I don't have a brain. :P

  • It turns people into attention whores. "LOOK AT ME!"
  • Because our providers are Verizon/AT&T/Sprint/T-Mobile/Comcast/etc., so we get either bankrupt, out of network, datacapped or hypnotised by slow speeds before we can feel any addictive effects.

  • People are becoming depressed, anxious, stressed, impulsive. The culprit? Exactly smartphones/internet and the dopamine rushes they provide.

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