Helpless parents everywhere are worried about their kids hypnotically transfixed on their electronic screens. Their illuminated faces as they stare into the screens has led leading addiction specialist Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D. to name them Glow Kids. Where is all this going and is this doing children harm? In his recent book, Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids – And How To Break The Trance, Dr. Karakas examines how this new technology has been scientifically engineered to spark the brain’s dopamine levels and influence children to insatiably crave more and more. This modern day pass time has evolved into a digital drug designed to addict. And it is affecting children’s developing brains. This excerpt from his book gives a concise yet solid overview of the problem.
The author writes that “certain substances or behaviors tickle dopamine more than others. For example, brain imaging research shows us that eating – especially eating craving foods like chocolate – can raise dopamine levels by 50 per cent; while sex can raise dopamine by 100 per cent; snorting cocaine increases dopamine by 350 per cent; and ingesting crystal meth creates a whopping 1,200 per cent increase in dopamine. That’s why we’d say that crystal meth has the highest dopaminergic effect - and thus the highest addictive potential – amongst the substances just mentioned.
“So how dopaminergic are virtual experiences? According to one ground-breaking study by Koepp in 1998, video games increase dopamine as much as sex does, about 100 per cent. And keep in mind that those are positively quaint 1998 video games, not the 72-inch LCD, ultrarealistic, hyper-stimulating and highly arousing games of today.
“Think about it this way: we’d be horrified if our young children were exposed to something as inappropriate and stimulating as sex, yet we’re letting them get virtual brain orgasms every time they play video games. Knowing that, is it really any wonder that kids are so hooked on their electronics?
“As the navy’s Dr. Andrew Doan put it: ‘The problem is that video game playing (VGP) is estimated to increase brain dopamine levels equivalent to sex; thus VGP is risky in young minds that cannot say no as VGP literally hijacks their thoughts.’
“There’s one other very important factor that we need to keep in mind in trying to fully understand the addictive potential of video games: the reward schedule, also known as the schedule of reinforcement, a term used by psychologists to describe the pattern or frequency of dopamine-tickling rewards.
“As mentioned earlier, natural dopaminergic activities require time and effort: if I get a dopamine tickle when I eat a piece of chocolate cake, we can say that the event has a buildup (I get the cake and cut it), an actual engagement period (I eat the cake) and a coming-down period (I digest the cake). The same can be said for sex – arousal, fooling around and then climax; for the young and vigorous, maybe a rinse and repeat. But I’m not repeatedly rewarding myself (getting the dopamine tickle) continuously over a period of hours.
“Drugs and virtual stimulation, however, can be quickly repeated, over and over again. I can keep playing Minecraft or shooting the target in a shooter game as my dopamine squirts in a rat-tat-tat fashion, and it’s that rapid reward schedule of a continuous brain orgasm that creates such a powerful addiction dynamic.
“While an adult may have the willpower to refrain from engaging with tech as powerful and addicting as sex, from a developmental standpoint, since the brain’s frontal cortex – the brain’s braking mechanism, which controls impulsivity – isn’t fully developed until well into a person’s twenties, a child simply doesn’t have the neurobiological apparatus to handle that level of stimulation.
“Thus once little Johnny and Suzie experience that feel-good electronic orgasm-like dopamine tickle, they want to push the repeat button again ….. and again ….. and again ….. and again.
“How compulsive are video games? Here’s a telling factoid: according to the manufacturer, gamers have played the Call of Duty series – one of the most popular first-person-shooter games - for 23 billion total hours ….. That adds up to 2.85 million years …. And that’s just one franchise.
“A rather prophetic episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called ‘The Game’, which aired 25 years ago, back in 1991, vividly depicts this addictive brain orgasm effect: the crew of the Enterprise is given a virtual headset game that produces an intensely euphoric sensation. They become so addicted to the devices that they walk around in a perpetually trancelike state – not unlike that of Google Glass wearers – and are almost taken over by another species while in their euphoric stupor.”
Nicholas Kardaras, Ph.D., Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids – And How To Break The Trance, St. Martin’s Press, 2016
Video Game Addiction: How Programmers Hook Players http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2015/06/video-game-addiction-how-programmers.html
Violent Video Games Increase Aggression, Lessen Empathy http://www.mybestbuddymedia.com/2013/02/violent-video-games-increase-aggression.html