Are We (Raising) Information Addicts?
Do you check your phone several times a day? When you wake up in the middle of the night do you check your phone before going back to sleep? Even though you’re not expecting any important messages. A new study has found that information acts on the brain’s dopamine-producing reward system, the striatum, in the same way as money or food. In other words, the part of the brain that causes addiction reacts to information as it would any other habit-forming substance.
A renowned author and neuro-economist whose research combines functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), psychological theory, economic modelling and machine learning has recently found that over and beyond above its usefulness, to the brain, information is its own reward. Moreover, just as our brains like the “empty calories” our bodies extract from junk food, they can overvalue information that makes us feel good but may not be very useful. The phenomenon is what some may call idle curiosity.
The abovementioned findings were published earlier this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For the first time, researchers demonstrate that the brain converts information into the same common scale as it does for money. This lays a foundation for understanding the neuroscience behind how we consume information, and even digital addiction. The existence of a common neural code for information and money begs the significant question of how people consume, and sometimes overconsume, information.
Increasing empirical data has been generated to substantiate the theory that social media, news sites, Google and the rest create an addiction in the same way that money or food – or indeed gambling, shopping, cocaine or alcohol – do. Social scientists are only beginning to consider the serious implications of this phenomenon. The most worrying aspect of this looming threat is that people under 25 – a demographic with lifetime exposure – is most susceptible to information/digital addiction.