01 January 2009

Addiction to Computers and Other Screens

A quotation from The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge:
"To say that a cultural medium, such as television, radio, or the internet, alters the balance of senses does not prove it is harmful. Much of the harm from television and other electronic media, such as music videos and computer games, comes from their effect on attention. Children and teenagers who sit in front of fighting games are engaged in massed practice and are incrementally rewarded. Video games, like Internet porm, meet all the conditions for plastic brain map changes. A team at the Hammersmith Hospital in London designed a typical video game in which a tank commander shoots the enemy and dodges enemy fire. The experiment showed that dopamine--the reward neurotransmitter, also triggered by addictive drugs--is released in the brain during these games. People who are addicted to computer games show all the signs of other addictions: cravings when they stop, neglect of other activities, euphoria when on the computer, and a tendency to deny or minimize their actual involvement.

"Television, music videos, and video games, all of which use television techniques, unfold at a much faster pace than real life, and they are getting faster, which causes people to develop an increased appetite for high-speed transitions in those media. It is the form of the television medium--cuts, edits, zoons, pans, and sudden noises--that alters the brain, by activating what Pavlov called the "orienting response," which occurs whenever we sense a sudden change in the world around us, especially a sudden movement. We instinctively interrupt whatever we are doing to turn, pay attention, and get our bearings. The orientation response evolved, no doubt, because our forebears were both predators and prey and needed to react to situations that could be dangerous or could provide sudden opportunities for such things as food or sex, or simply to novel situations. The response is physiological: the heart rate decreases for four to six seconds. Television triggers this response at a far more rapid rate than we experience it in life, which is why we can't keep our eyes off the TV screen, even in the middle of an intimate conversation, and why people watch TV a lot longer than they intend. Because typical music videos, action sequences, and commercials trigger orientation responses at a rate of one per second, watching them puts us into continuous orienting response with no recovery. No wonder people report feeling drained from watching TV. Yet we acquire a taste for it and find slower changes boring. The cost is that such activities as reading, complex conversation, and listening to lectures become more difficult."

See Also
Crackberry [on this blog]
How the City Hurts Your Brain [Boston.com]

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