Why Can't I Put My Smartphone Down? Here's The Science : Shots - Health News In an era when many kids get a first smartphone at age 10, psychologists say the devices have turned us into Pavlov's dogs — drooling for the next notification, buzz or text. Ready to dial back?
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Smartphone Detox: How To Power Down In A Wired World

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Smartphone Detox: How To Power Down In A Wired World

Smartphone Detox: How To Power Down In A Wired World

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/584389201/585032374" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to spend the next few minutes talking about the devices that have come to rule our lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF RINGTONE)

MARTIN: Yeah, we're talking about smartphones. This week, Apple shareholders are meeting, and two major shareholders have raised concerns that smartphones are harming our children. But what about us adults? NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff looks at smartphone addiction and how to cut back.

MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: Right around 1900, a Russian scientist named Ivan Pavlov ran a landmark experiment. He gave dogs a yummy treat.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

DOUCLEFF: But right before he handed them the treat, he played a sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

DOUCLEFF: Yes, a buzzer, not a bell. The buzzer came to have a special meaning for the dogs - food was coming, and dogs actually started drooling just when they heard the sound, even when no food was around. The buzzer had become pleasurable. David Greenfield, a psychologist at the University of Connecticut, says smartphone notifications...

(SOUNDBITE OF SMARTPHONE NOTIFICATION)

DOUCLEFF: ...Are doing the same thing to our brains.

DAVID GREENEFIELD: It's elevating the neurochemical dopamine, and dopamine is a pleasure chemical.

DOUCLEFF: So the phone has basically turned us all into Pavlov's dogs.

GREENFIELD: That's exactly what the phone has done. We are all Pavlov's dogs.

DOUCLEFF: A growing number of doctors are concerned about people's relationship with their phones. There's a debate about what to call it. Some say a disorder or problematic behavior. Others think it could become a behavioral addiction, like gambling. Anna Lembke, a psychiatrist at Stanford University, says there's a wide range of severities and symptoms.

ANNA LEMBKE: It's a spectrum disorder, so there's a mild, moderate and severe forms.

DOUCLEFF: And for many people, there's no problem at all. In this way, Lembke says the phone is kind of like alcohol.

LEMBKE: So I'm not saying, you know, everybody get rid of their smartphones, they're completely addictive. I'm saying let's be very thoughtful about how we're using these devices because we can use them in pathological ways.

DOUCLEFF: Lembke says signs of pathological use are, for instance, does the phone make you stay up at night and not get enough sleep, or does it reduce the time you interact with friends and family? Or is it making you rude?

LEMBKE: When you're in the middle of having a conversation with someone, are you in the middle of that just dropping down and scrolling through your phone, and maybe doing it totally unaware that you're doing it?

DOUCLEFF: Also heavy usage may squelch your creativity.

LEMBKE: It really deprives you of a kind of seamless flow of creative thought that generates from your own brain.

DOUCLEFF: So what can we do? Well, for starters, Greenfield says turn off notifications - all notifications.

(SOUNDBITE OF SMARTPHONE NOTIFICATION)

DOUCLEFF: Get an old-fashioned wristwatch or an alarm clock so you don't have to sleep with your phone. And keep the phone away from meals. Don't even set it on the table.

GREENFIELD: There is some research that shows that if you have the phone in the room with you, even if it's face down or off, your cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone, actually elevate.

DOUCLEFF: Finally, Lembke says, try a short digital detox.

LEMBKE: Put your smartphone away for 24 hours.

DOUCLEFF: After a few hours, you may start to have cravings, but...

LEMBKE: If you can make it to 24 hours, what you'll find is that you're no longer compulsively thinking about the need to check your phone, and you're having some original thoughts.

DOUCLEFF: In fact, Lembke thinks this detox can reset your brain circuitry a bit so that when you hear...

(SOUNDBITE OF SMARTPHONE NOTIFICATION)

DOUCLEFF: ...You probably won't drool quite as much.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

DOUCLEFF: Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.

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