According to data from the Pew Research Center, 90% of Americans have a cell phone, while a full 58% of them own smartphones.
More surprising, though, is the percentage of people who have developed a psychological attachment to their phones.
It’s called “nomophobia” (short for no-mobile-phone phobia), and psychologists say that it’s affecting more and more young people.
Symptoms include feelings of panic or desperation when separated from your smartphone, not being able to focus on conversations or work, and constantly checking phones for notifications. Some people may think their phone is ringing when it’s not, a condition named cellphone vibration syndrome that researchers say could be a sign of a more serious technology addiction.
According to Dr. David Greenfield, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, an attachment to your smartphone is similar to other addictions in that it involves a dysregulation of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates the brain’s reward center, meaning that it motivates people to do things they think they will be rewarded for doing.
Greenfield founded the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction to help the always-connected find a better balance in their lives.
“Every time you get a notification from your phone, there’s a little elevation in dopamine that says you might have something that’s compelling, whether that’s a text message from someone you like, an email, or anything,” Greenfield said to Business Insider. “The thing is you don’t know what it’s going to be or when you’re going to get it, and that’s what compels the brain to keep checking. It’s like the world’s smallest slot machine.”