Last updated December 14, 2017 at 10:15 am
In Australia, 86 per cent of people over 14 years old have a smart phone. We own 17.3 million mobile devices. And somehow we lose 1370 smartphones every day. That’s just over half a million every year! So you don’t need me to tell you how crucial smartphones have become to our daily lives. But sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.
Researchers from Korea University have proven that smartphone and internet addiction changes brain chemistry in young people. They used a technique called magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to measure brain chemicals in addicted, non-addicted, and recovering people.
They started with 19 young people who were addicted to the internet and smartphones. Their addiction was determined with standardised tests where the higher the score, the more severe the addiction. The tests questioned the effect of internet and smartphones on daily routines, social life, productivity, sleeping patterns and feelings.
The researchers ran psychological tests and showed that the subjects rated more highly on depression, anxiety, insomnia and severity. When they followed up with MRS scans they were looking for a couple of things – a neurotransmitter known as GABA, and a neurotransmitter known as GIx. Among other important jobs, GABA slows down brain chemicals and GIx excites them. The researchers were particularly curious about the ratio of GABA to GIx.
At this stage, the researchers also tested 19 control subjects who were the same age and gender as the test subjects, but were not addicted to smartphones. They found that the ratio of GABA to GIx was higher in the addicted subjects in an area near the front of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, which functions include managing emotional reactions, and learning.
The next stage of the experiment involved giving 12 of the 19 addicted subjects cognitive behavioural therapy to treat their addiction. After nine weeks of therapy, the subjects were re-scanned with MRS, and showed dramatic improvements, in some cases becoming full normalised again.
So while this research shows that while smartphone addiction is very real, recovery is too.
This study was presented to the Radiological Society of North America.