Dr. Andrew Weil discusses the validity of technology addiction.
Q: Can technology really be addicting?
A: I try to “unplug” by 3 p.m. or so; a lot of people I know can’t do that. Classic behavioral principles apply here: According to psychologist B. F. Skinner, an animal’s behavior is influenced by how it gets reinforcement, and the most powerful schedules of reinforcement are variable-ratio schedules. For example, let’s say a rat presses a bar and gets a food pellet after a certain number of tries. But the number of presses it takes to get the reward varies. When food is presented in that way, the animal will work itself to death pressing the bar. In many ways e-mail does the same thing. You know that once in a while, you get a “food pellet”—a love note, a funny video or interesting news. But these are relatively rare, and they come according to a variable-ratio schedule. So you’re compelled to keep checking e-mail, in case you get a “hit” like that.
–Dr. Andrew Weil, Sharecare.com expert, Alternative and complimentary medicine specialist, Author, Spontaneous Happiness, Eating Well for Optimum Health