Why Your Phone Is So Addictive?
Our brain is not designed to release good feelings all the time for no reason. It evolved to promote survival. It’s designed to release the good feeling of dopamine and oxytocin when you step toward meeting a survival need. It defines survival with circuits built from past experience: whatever triggered your happy chemicals in the past built neural pathways that turn them on today.
Your phone triggered happy chemicals in your past, by bringing good news and social support. That turned on your dopamine or oxytocin, and connected all the neurons active at the moment. Now, the thought of your phone activates a pathway that flows to your happy chemicals.
But the dopamine and oxytocin are soon metabolized and you have to do more to get more. No wonder you think of your phone again and again!
Of course you don’t consciously think your phone promotes survival. But the electricity in your brain flows like water in a storm, finding the paths of least resistance. The paths paved by your past rewards tell you where to expect future rewards.
Your brain seeks good feelings as if your life depends on it because in the world your brain evolved in, anything that triggered a good feeling was good for survival. You pick up your phone whenever you have a spare moment because your brain keeps seeking happy chemicals in ways that worked before.
It’s better than picking up a cookie, or a cigarette, or a martini!
Your phone also relieves bad feelings in a curious way. The bad feeling of cortisol is released when you see a potential threat or obstacle. Cortisol commands your attention until you find a way to relieve it. In the state of nature, a predator can kill you in an instant but you can always survive the loss of one meal. That is why relief from threats and obstacles is top priority for this brain we’ve inherited.
Smelling a predator makes your cortisol surge, and you get some relief when you see the predator because you’re safer when you know where it is. You get more relief if you find a tree to climb. When a tree saves your life, the great feeling of relief builds a neural pathway that wires you to scan for trees.