How Does Flat-Screen Addiction Affect Your Brain?

James E. Croley III, M.D.

James E. Croley III, M.D.

Author and Ophthalmologist

Imagine it is late at night or three o’clock in the morning. You have not moved from your flat screen for hours. You have had several cups of coffee and eaten a large bag of potato chips. You are shocked when you look at the time on your smartphone. You were unaware of spending that much time staring at your electronic devices. What happened? Could viewing screen devices or technology addictions be an addiction like drug addiction or being an alcoholic? How did this happen?

Addiction is defined as a chronic medical disease involving complex interactions in an individual’s experiences and environment with addiction to substance abuse or engaging in behaviors that become compulsive and continue despite harmful consequences. Addicted people get withdrawal symptoms if they stop; the activity controls their life and may build up a tolerance to it which will drive further addiction.

Screen addiction is a relatively new term. A flat screen is any medium showing you a video clip, a motion picture, social media, or video games, or it could be any screen device on the market. The average American spends more than 11 hours a day looking at a flat screen or digital media of some size or type. Young people and young children spend more than nine hours a day staring at a flat screen. This includes mobile phones, iPads, portable tablets, computers, televisions, and smartwatches.

An ophthalmology friend of mine became addicted to video gaming. He spent thousands of hours doing online gaming. He nearly lost his career and family. He finally overcame his addiction and published a book about his video game addiction. The title of the book is Hooked on Games by Dr. Andrew Doan.

The Lure and Cost of Video Game and Internet Addiction
Photo from Amazon

Family members consume more than five times the information than human beings did fifty years ago. Flat-screen use increases every year. Words, images, mobile games, videos, and other social media apps transform you over time. This amount of information due to screen-based addictions will alter the brain and how it processes all this data per day. 

This brain stimulation will change how you think and how the brain organizes information. Mental health issues will become more prevalent from the enormous amount of increased stimulation and brain activity. There are many physical health problems related to flat-screen addiction as well.

Another major problem with flat-screen viewing directly contributes to the addiction related to its use. There is a direct connection between the visual pathways in the brain from the primary vision center in the brain to the limbic system or amygdala. This pathway is present as a protection system for people.

The limbic system is the location of the flight-or-fight response in the brain. This direct connection provides the ability to an instant response to a dangerous situation. When your eyes see an event, you want to be able to have a rapid response to the situation. The limbic system or amygdala immediately releases epinephrinenorepinephrine, and cortisol to activate the flight-or-fight response for your safety and well-being.

Image by Hans Kretzmann from Pixabay

The problem is this area of the brain is the location for your strong emotional responses such as anger, lust, rage, and fear. By viewing stimulating images on your flat screen, you keep your emotions activated. This chronic activation of the limbic system has severe consequences.

Contrary to beliefs years ago, the brain has neural plasticity. The brain is constantly forming new brain cells and neural pathways. The more you do a particular function, you increase the number of brain cells related to that activity. The pathway gets stronger and more dominant. By your addiction to flat screens, you can make the limbic system in your brain hyperactive. This isn’t good for you to live a life of happiness. Your emotions will be out of control and you will become addicted to the rush of dopamine in your brain.

From the very first time someone looks at a flat screen, the addiction process begins. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger that sends information from one brain neuron to another brain cell. Dopamine is the primary neurotransmitter involved with the brain’s reward system and feeling of pleasure. It is released into the brain when someone does something or sees something that warrants a reward, a pleasure response, or even when a person anticipates a reward. These rewards may include behaviors like drug use, alcohol use, or sex.

A drug like cocaine blocks the reuptake of dopamine, which means the brain is flooded with dopamine. This excess dopamine leads to the euphoric feeling of using cocaine. The rush of dopamine experienced when using cocaine, other drugs, and alcohol causes the euphoria people feel, leading to their addiction to that sensation.

People’s flat-screen activity releases dopamine just like in drug addiction. High flat-screen times increase the levels of dopamine which overstimulates the brain. The brain is addicted to the flat screen in the same way as drug addiction or any other addiction such as gambling. People spend hours sitting in front of slot machines.

social media
Image by Pixelkult from Pixabay

There is a new Silicone Valley fad called Dopamine Fasting. The people that have invented social media have realized what they are doing to their own brains. Dr. Cameron Sepath, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of San Francisco, coined the term dopamine fasting. He recommends taking a break from behaviors that trigger strong amounts of dopamine release (especially in a repeated fashion), allowing the brain to recover and restore itself. Sepath believes that dopamine fasting is the antidote to our overstimulated age. The break could be an hour at the end of the day. You could consider taking a day away from all flat screens and technology over the weekend.

The intent behind Dopamine Fasting was to provide a rational suggestion for disconnecting from days of the technology-driven frenzy occurring in America today. Unfortunately, some people use the fasting time from flat screens to increase or renew their response when returning to their social media use. Constant flat-screen use has dulled their reactions to what they are viewing. They need the rush and taking a break may help them get that thrill again when they go back online.

The Chinese Government has decided that all this flat screen use is not good for young boys and has limited its use. They can be on their flat screens for one hour on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights from eight to nine o’clock. They must think that the addiction to flat-screen use is very detrimental to the development of their young people.

Unhealthy flat-screen addictions are flourishing because people do not see the health risks or consequences.  Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and other social media apps distract you from the world around you. Human interaction is non-existent. A personal relationship becomes less important. These apps become a way of escaping from reality or dealing with society’s turmoil. Everyone has their cell phones full of a large variety of apps.

Image by Victoria_Watercolor from Pixabay

New studies show that flat screens alter brain development in infants and young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that flat screens should be avoided in children under 24 months of age. Children ages two to five should be limited to one hour a day watching flat screens. There are relationships between screen time in children and body-mass index, less sleep per night, delays in cognition, speech delays, language development, and social-emotional development.

Recently, JAMA Pediatrics published a study titled Association Between Screen-Based Media Use and Brain White Matter Integrity in Preschool-Aged Children. This study suggests that more flat-screen time meant lower expressive language, decreased literacy skills, and decreased ability to name objects rapidly. There were also physical changes in brain structure. There was significantly lower brain white matter integrity related to language and literacy skills in a portion of the brain.

Social media has many positive benefits, but it has also robbed people of individual attributes. It has taken away from many people the ability to find trust and comfort with one another. We have replaced this personal interaction with a hollow virtual relationship with others. The younger generations have limited social and physical interactions with their peers.

According to a journal article by Jacob Amedie titled The Impact of Social Media on Society, “Each step forward in social media has made it easier, just a little, to avoid the emotional work of being present, to convey information rather than humanity.” Amedie also states that social media robs us of self-control and the ability to think independently and instead makes us gullible to join any group that posts perverse messages that tickle our ears and amuse our senses without evaluation of the consequences.

man sitting
Image by Holger Langmaier from Pixabay

Many experts in social media believe there are short-term and long-term effects secondary to social media use through a flat screen.

The short-term effects are primingarousal, and mimicry. A lot of this is from the dopamine released into the brain from the stimulation of flat-screen addiction. Priming processes occur in the brain by being excited from participating in social media. There is increased arousal, secondary to stimulation from social media. Mimicry occurs from the time spent viewing social media. You tend to mimic or copycat what is on that flat screen.

The long-term effects are more chronic and lasting, such as observational learning of thoughts and behaviorsactivation, and desensitization of emotional centers in the limbic systemObservational learning is especially true in the developing brains of children They are molding and developing their paradigm or beliefs. Desensitization occurs after repeated exposure to emotionally stimulating social media or video games. Continued viewing can lead to the habituation of emotional responses to visual stimuli.

Many studies have shown a strong connection between extended flat-screen viewing and the increased risk of anxiety disorders, loneliness, and depression. Many people use flat-screen time as a security blanket. They interact with social media on their flat screen instead of talking or meeting with a friend in person.

From addiction to flat-screen viewing, the suicide rate in the age group of ten to twenty-four has increased by approximately 60 percent from 2007 to 2018. Nearly seventy-five percent of people aged eighteen to twenty-four in the year 2020 have reported at least one adverse cognitive or behavioral health-related symptom. This was due to the increased isolation and flat-screen viewing from the quarantine related to Covid.

girl sitting
Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

The World Health Organization believes that addiction to flat-screen viewing is a serious problem.

Social media can become an authoritative figure in the life of a young girl who is dealing with their body changing as they go through puberty. They are concerned with their body image as their body is changing. They turn to the advice given through social media. Many come from their peers, who have no expertise in psychology to guide them properly. Everyone they see on a flat screen looks perfect. Everyone Photoshops the images they place on social media. Young people see this and they become depressed. They are more prone to addiction to flat-screen use because their brains have yet to develop. Their brains are easily manipulated.

The negative impacts on physical health related to flat-screen addiction are significant. Social interaction is lost with the addiction to flat screens. Flat-screen use begins to isolate you as you sit at home alone watching the screen all day.

Young adults are becoming obese because of diet, little exercise, and outdoor activity. It is not only the mental aspect that is affected by people’s addictive involvements; they also take a physical toll. Sitting in front of a flat screen leads to obesity, dry eyes, eye fatigue, neck problems, thumb or finger problems from texting, increased stress, anxiety, poor posture-related problems, and sleeplessness, to name a few. Frequent users of flat screens have two to three times the risk of sleep disturbances.

Additionally, smartphones cause increased traffic accidents from people walking while texting. People walk into dangerous situations as they are not watching where they step. Unfortunately, many people have died from their flat-screen use.

mobile phones
Image by Barbara from Pixabay

Flat-screen addiction is one of the major contributors to the decay of the culture and society in America today. People’s tempers are on the edge all the time. The margin of our ability to handle stress no longer exists. Road rage is skyrocketing. Mental health problems are dramatically on the rise. The general health of Americans is worsening by the day. Each year, the time spent staring at a flat screen is increasing.

Technology is going to always advance and therefore the addiction to these devices will only increase. There is too much money, power, and control associated with flat-screen devices. The people in charge know they are in control and can manipulate the public. This is no different from Hitler and Stalin using movies to spread their propaganda.

Mental health professionals make people more aware of the addictive nature and the detrimental side effects of flat-screen addiction. Adults and parents need to be aware of the horrible side effects of addiction to flat screens, too. As parents, they have to be in charge of flat-screen use in their children.

Parents should not let their very young children even look at a flat screen. You have to be an active parent. You can’t give your child a flat screen and say “I will see you when you turn eighteen” and let the flat screen be their parent and babysitter. You may not recognize the person you meet when they are eighteen. You may not like them and they might not like you.

Flat-screen addiction is on the rise. You don’t want to be one of its victims.

Dr. James E. Croley III is a respected eye surgeon and a Christian. He is the author of two books, Believing is Seeing and The Blinding of America. Order copies for your family and friends today.

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