In the current digital age, we see it everyday: texting and driving is a dangerous stunt to pull off, yet 20 percent or more of the population does it often. Another study suggests that half of people are distracted by their cell phones, even though 98 percent know that it’s dangerous. Texting while driving increases the risk of a motor vehicle accident by six times. A closer look inside this tendency to reach for our cell phones reveals much truth about the human person.
Every time we sense pleasure, it’s a result of dopamine, along with other chemicals, generating in the brain. When someone tastes good food or plays video games, this reaction occurs. After this reaction occurs, we tend to want more of it. The same process happens when a person hears their phone buzz or ring. We have a compulsion to immediately reach or look for our phones when a notification alerts. What many people don’t know is this reaction that causes the “good feels” also does something much worse. Kelly Wallace states:
“When our brains are in that elevated dopamine state caused by the expectation of a text or status update, the activated brain reward center does something else. It shuts down access to another part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, where most of our judgment and reasoning occurs.”
This could explain why many people still text and drive, even though they know it is dangerous. This also may help to understand why someone has a hard time ignoring their phone on a date, or with a group of friends. Now this realization doesn’t give us the excuse to use our phone. Instead, we should use this information to combat the temptation at hand. But first, why is there a dopamine rush in our heads when something is pleasurable?
Many pleasurable things are good. Sex is good. Exercise is good. Eating is good. But all of these can be bad. If they are used only for their pleasure, a person can easily become addicted. When they are used to fulfill their purpose, then they are good and addiction seems less plausible. As a human person, it is important to understand how our own bodies work. The chemical process in the brain isn’t just there randomly. Our brain is created to help us to use an object for the good, or we could choose to misuse it in negative ways.
Instead of scrolling through Facebook, try doing something else that increases dopamine levels that is more positive, like reading a book. Avoid leaving the volume on when entering your car too. If someone puts their phone on silent when they watch a movie, it will turn into a great habit. If your phone doesn’t make noise, you’ll have nothing else to distract you except for the radio and your thoughts, which aren’t as random as you might think.
–Samuel Mettler is a senior Broadcast Journalism student at North Dakota State University.