Most would agree that smartphone addiction is bad on a social level, but now researchers have found that it actually causes changes in our brains. This is even more concerning when you realize that 46% of Americans say they can’t live without their smartphones, according to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.
Smartphone addiction causes brain changes
A group of researchers presented the results of their study on smartphone addiction at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America on Thursday. They found that aside from spending more time staring at a smartphone screen and less time in face-to-face interaction, those who are addicted to their smartphones are actually experiencing changes in their brains.
In conducting their study, Neuroradiology Professor Dr. Hyung Suk Seo and team studied the brains of teenagers who are addicted to smartphones and the Internet via magnetic resonance spectroscopy. MRS is a form of MRI which measures the chemical make-up of the brain. Researchers studied 19 young people whose mean age was 15.5 years and who were diagnosed with either Internet or smartphone addiction. They also had a control group consisting of 19 young people whose genders and ages matched those in the stud group.
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How smartphone addiction changes your brain
According to a press release on the study, scientists used standardized tests on smartphone addiction to measure how badly each subject’s level of addiction was. The questions were aimed at determining how much smartphones and the Internet impacted their routines, sleep, social activities, mood and productivity levels, and a higher score meant greater severity of addiction. The teens who suffered from smartphone addiction had much higher levels of anxiety and depression, more severe insomnia, and a much greater score in impulsivity.
Dr. Seo and his team performed MRS exams on the teenagers who suffered from smartphone addiction, both before and after they received behavioral therapy. They also conducted one MRS on each of the control patients. They were measuring each patient’s gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a neurotransmitter that slows signals in the brain. They were also looking at glutamate-glutamine (Glx), a neurotransmitter that excites neurons in the brain.
The MRS results showed that the GABA to Glx ratios in the anterior cingulate cortex in the control group were much lower than those found in the patients who suffered from smartphone addiction. Other studies have shown that high GABA amounts can cause problems such as anxiety and tiredness. The researchers also found that the GABA to Glx ratios in the teens who were addicted to their smartphones declined significantly after they received cognitive behavioral therapy.