4 Ways Your Smartphone Is Changing Your Brain

What is all this screen time *actually* doing to our minds?

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An incredible 81% of us have our smartphones within arm's reach nearly all the time, and one in five young people admit to checking their screens every five minutes.

If you're worried about the hold your phone has over you, don't panic too much. Our brains are constantly changing in response to our beloved smartphones, a process neuroscientists call 'neuroplasticity', explains Professor Larry Rosen, author of iDisorder:

"This is basically a constant process of strengthening and weakening nerve cell connection in the brain as a function of our experiences. It is definitely a plus that our brains continue to change. Given that our brains are inundated by stimuli all day long, neuroplasticity is a brain saver."

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Here's how your brain is changing (probably right now, while you're reading this on your digital BFF):

1. Your memory is kicking back with a margarita

Have you noticed how you find it hard to do a simple task, like finding your way to a restaurant, without first consulting your smartphone? Blame the 'Google Effect', a condition identified by researchers at Columbia University, U.S:

"It has become so commonplace to look up the answer to any question, it can feel like going through withdrawal when we can't find out something immediately," found researcher Betsy Sparrow. The study concludes: "We are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools, growing into interconnected systems that remember less by knowing information than by knowing where the information can be found."

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In English? Because it's so easy to find the answer to, well, everything on the Internet, our own internal hard drives have become fuzzy-headed.

2. You've grown an extra limb

If your smartphone feels like an extension of your arm, that's because it virtually is. In one study, 90% of people reported 'phantom vibration syndrome', where you feel a buzzing in your pocket even when your phone isn't there. What's more, heavy mobile phone users (that's most of us) even feel our phones are part of our bodies. A 2015 study from the University of Missouri in which people were separated from their devices found subjects reported "feeling a loss of identity", says researcher Russell Clayton.

3. Your anxiety has anxiety

If you're used to living with your hand on your iPhone, just 10 minutes of separation is enough to trigger anxiety in your brain, as Dr Rosen found in a 2014 experiment.

"Anxiety, often manifesting in sweaty palms or heart palpitations, is how our bodies react to the release of certain chemicals in the brain, most notably cortisol, the stress hormone," he says.

Dr Rosen's research also found that if there's a phone within sight – even if it's not yours – its very presence has the power to make you anxious.

4. You rapid-fire thoughts

The barrage of notifications, emails, texts and squillions of click-bait links that pop up are precisely how technology "overloads" our brains, according to Dr Rosen. While it sounds great to have such a fountain of information exploding in our heads, we pay a large emotional cost. Being inundated by scattergun thoughts makes us "very tired and miserable," says Dr Rosen. Studies show the average Millenial concentrates on one thing for less than five minutes before being tempted to switch to something else. (Thanks for still reading, btw).

How to reverse (some of) the smart phone effects

If you want to improve your concentration without going cold turkey, try Forest app (£1.49, iTunes). Set the time you want to stay focused for, and in that period a tree will grow from seed to its full leafy magnificence on your smartphone screen. Interrupt the screen to check Snapchat, and your tree will die. This app has the threatening power of a chain email multiplied to infinity. It could the savior of your concentration, calm disposition and even your sanity. You're welcome.

From: Net Doctor
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