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Mobile Scrolling :The Psychological Impact of Endless


The digital era has made it routine through our mobile phones daily. We look at one thing after another—whether it is a clip of a dog, a photograph of a friend taken at an ocean beach, some viral meme, or news from far away. We engage with what we like and swiftly move on from what we don’t, constantly pushing forward.

The Habit of Endlessly Mobile Scrolling

This habit of perpetually advancing through our screens has become ingrained in many of us, sometimes to the extent that even moments to the left of us don’t go unnoticed, and we continue this scrolling ritual until the wee hours before sleep.

Understanding the Psychological Impact Mobile Scrolling

But what are the neurological effects when we engage in this scrolling behaviour? Why do we develop such a strong inclination towards it? And most importantly, now that the habit is formed, how can we distance ourselves from it and prevent it from becoming an issue?

Insights from Psychological Experts

According to Elise Duke, a psychology expert and senior lecturer at Leeds University, it’s essential to understand whether our urge to pick up the phone or the content that drives our scrolling is an innate or learned behaviour.

Unconscious Behavior and Environmental Influence

We often fail to realize that we’ve nurtured this habit over a long period, like closing the door when leaving the house—an action ingrained in our subconscious. Duke refers to a study conducted years ago, where participants claimed to check their phones every 18 minutes. However, when their screen usage was monitored, it revealed a far higher frequency.

Mobile Scrolling


The Brain’s Response to the First Click

The first click to turn on our phone screen triggers certain brain activities, aligning with the latest designs of our cellphone applications and creating seamless synchronization.

Scrolling: A Natural Behavior Enhanced by Environment

Psychology professor Iraaneh Ling from New York University suggests that scrolling-like behaviours are natural to humans but are augmented by environmental factors.

The Innate Curiosity and Informational Design

Ling explains that humans have an innate curiosity to know what’s happening around them. Hence, we read news articles or instinctively stop to observe accidents on the road. Our smartphones are designed to provide us with information tailored to our interests.

Continuous Pursuit of Pleasure Mobile Scrolling

The Brain’s Natural Drive for Reward

Our brain inherently seeks reward or pleasure. We possess neural centres that react to joys akin to those experienced from sex, drugs, or winning at gambling, and we often seek to repeat these experiences.

Seeking Novelty and Pleasure

Professor Duke explains that we constantly search for newness, which becomes the next sensation of pleasure, whatever it may be. This drive is governed by the brain’s reward system or circuitry, the exact mechanism through which individuals become addicted to substances like alcohol.

Novelty in the Form of Phones

For many people, this pursuit of novelty has manifested in our phones. Particularly on social networks, there’s a continuous stream of pleasant new offerings—an image, a video, a tweet, or a message.

The Brain’s Response to Immediate Pleasure

However, another part of your brain—the prefrontal cortex, the front part — contends with impulses or drives for immediate pleasure.

The Prefrontal Cortex: Balancing Impulse and Reason

This area of your brain is responsible for reasoning rather than excitement, compelling you to make balanced decisions. For instance, it may prompt you to stop scrolling, get off the couch, clean your house, or exercise.

Imbalance between Rationality and Impulse

However, these two brain factors sometimes align harmoniously. Mr. Duke notes that for many people, “our logical brain, which controls our temper or excitement, doesn’t do its job, or at least not in a way that can withstand the search for pleasure.”

Challenges, Particularly in Youth

This discrepancy is more prevalent in youth. Professor Duke states, “In young people, we see that the reward circuit is on high alert, and it’s always ready for it. But the prefrontal cortex, which doesn’t fully mature until age 23 or 24, can’t control some impulses. As we see in the case of phone usage.”

While our brains are wired to seek pleasure and novelty, balancing immediate gratification and rational decision-making can be challenging, especially for younger individuals.

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