On April 9, the CBS news show 60 Minutes opened with a provocative segment called “Brain Hacking.” Reporter Anderson Cooper interviewed a number of Silicon Valley insiders who discussed a standard practice that, until now, has received little attention in the mainstream media. “Brain hacking” refers to the development of software and digital devices that are designed to create addictive usage. Smartphones, apps, and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter were shown to create anxiety responses in people in a way that was assuaged by…more usage of said devices. Our brain’s “fight or flight” response, based on a sudden release of the hormone cortisol, is triggered by features that are intentionally built into today’s technology. For example, Facebook uses a scrolling format to deliver its content because people are more likely to spend more time viewing it if occasional entries capture their attention. The “Like” feature of Facebook and other platforms (which generates a “ping” on our phones) was compared to the handle of a slot machine – we are drawn to “pull the handle” by the intermittent positive reinforcement doing so provides. Experiments have shown that people begin to experience anxiety if they cannot check their devices within a 15-minute window. CRG providers have written about the wise use of technology in the past. The “Brain Hacking” segment gives us all another reason to step back and consider healthy ways to manage these ubiquitous tools.
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