Here's What Your Smartphone Is Doing To Your Brain

It's not an addiction, but it's a problem. BT Image/Shutterstock

Although most of you will probably admit that you couldn’t live without your smartphone, it’s not very clear whether it represents a genuine addiction or not. Research is hoping to determine this once and for all, but for now, it’s something that can at least be described as problematic.

In any case, new research led by Seoul’s Korea University suggests that an addiction to, or an overreliance on, the technology is creating an “imbalance” in the brain chemistry of teenagers.

Previewed at the annual gathering of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago, this small study looked at the brains of 38 teenagers, both male and female.

In this study, the participants were questioned as to just how addicted the teenagers were. Half of the subjects were perfectly healthy, whereas the others were said to have been suffering from smartphone and Internet addiction.

The location of the anterior cingulate gyrus. Wikimedia Commons; CC BY-SA 2.1 jp

Symptoms are not concrete at present, but they are thought to include a failure to resist the impulse to use a smartphone, an irritability when not allowed access, overly prolonged usage times, and potentially frequent smartphone use that negatively affects their work, social skills, or even health.

Those that got higher addiction scores were also far more likely to be depressed, anxious, impulsive, and/or insomniacs. Some of the worst afflicted were given nine weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy to try and wean them off smartphones.

Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy – a form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that looks at the chemical composition of parts of the brain – the team of neuroradiologists looked at the subjects before and after their behavioral therapy was complete.

Two compounds were looked into: gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate-glutamine (Glx). The former is a neurotransmitter that inhibits signals between neurons, whereas the latter triggers electrical excitement in neurons. They are, roughly speaking, chemical rivals.

GABA’s inhibitory effects are, among other things, thought to help a person control their fear or anxiety impulses when their neurons are overexcited. Too much GABA, however, can induce anxiety, insomnia, and exhaustion.

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