Dr. Gary Small is a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute where he directs the Memory and Aging Research Center and the UCLA Center on Aging. Dr. Small invented the first brain scan that allows doctors to see the physical evidence of brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease in living people. He now leads a team of neuroscientists who are demonstrating that exposure to computer technology causes rapid and profound changes in brain neural circuitry. A leading experts on brain science, he has been named by Scientific American magazine as one of the world’s top innovators in science and technology.
Question: Can technology be addictive?
Gary Small: Human beings have the capacity to become addicted to many things. We often think of addiction as involving drugs or alcohol, but people get addicted to food. They get addicted to sex. They get addicted to technology. Now there is some debate as to whether you really can be addicted to the internet or to video games. In my mind you know that… we’re just dealing with semantics because it’s very clear there are many people, particularly young people who are unable to give up their technology of choice. In Asia they’re much more aware of this. There are in fact rehab centers for teenagers addicted to videogames and they work very hard to get them off of these video games. We know there are people playing these virtual life games 12, 14 hours a day. If you look at what drives any addiction it’s the primitive dopamine neurocircuitry in the brain, any kind of reward system, something that makes us feel good we have the prone to want it.
Gary Small: Anything that makes us feel good we’re prone to want it more and more and more and not give it up, so as the American Psychiatric Association continues to debate this we’re seeing a lot of people who are addicted to the technology and even if you’re not completely addicted where it’s not really causing a big problem in your life I think many of us can see the lure of it, how it’s often very difficult to leave it aside when we probably should be doing something else.
Gary Small: If you think of what defines an addiction it’s when you keep using something to the point where it’s hurting you in your life and often people who are addicted to technology or food or anything there tends to be a secretive nature about it. You isolate. You don’t tell people about it. You lie about it. If you can’t get it you crave it. You think about it. So all these patterns of addiction can show up with technology and it can range from eBay shopping to gambling, to virtual games, to video games. You name it.