“Smartphones actually could tap into one of the same pathways in the brain that make slot machines so addictive, according to Judson Brewer, the medical director at the Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic. One of the reasons gambling is so addictive is that it taps into a powerful associative learning pathway.
Associative learning means that your brain is trained to make you feel either good or bad after a certain event. Winning a jackpot feels great, so gamblers get a very strong hit of good-feeling chemicals when they win, which makes them want to do it again. “That forms an associative memory,” says Brewer. “Wanting is the stickiness that creates the glue between what you just did and that feeling.”
It turns out that reinforcing that reward intermittently creates a more powerful need than offering a reward consistently. If people hit the jackpot every time they pulled a lever, gambling would be boring. But because they don’t know when the reward is going to come, they want it that much more. Smartphones, in a way, also channel intermittent rewards.”
Smartphones’ sleek forms, tactile buttons, and blinking lights add up to a sort of game — and a perfect catalyst for compulsive behaviors, writes Shelley DuBois in Fortune Magazine.