Over at Curlew Books Sally has started work with Dr Mark Griffiths, an expert on behavioural addictions, on a book on screen addiction, with particular reference to on-screen gambling. As a result I am currently attuned to research on addiction. So, although I was actually looking for stuff on electromagnetic radiation, the following report on the possible outcomes of excess smart phone use leapt out at me.
The researchers, who came from Germany, Italy and Switzerland, were looking to see what effect excessive smart phone usage had on ‘gray matter volume and intrinsic neural activity’ in the brains of the 48 subjects studied. You can read the full report here but to quote from the abstract:
Popularity and availability of smartphones have dramatically increased in the past years. This trend is accompanied by increased concerns regarding potentially adverse effects of excessive smartphone use, particularly with respect to physical and mental health. Recently, the term “smartphone addiction” has been introduced to describe smartphone-related addictive behavior and associated physical and psychosocial impairment. Here, we used structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate gray matter volume and intrinsic neural activity in individuals with Smart Phone Addiction (22) compared to a control group (26).
Compared to controls, individuals with Smart Phone Addiction showed lower gray matter volume in left anterior insula, inferior temporal and parahippocampal cortex. Lower intrinsic activity in Smart Phone Addiction group was found in the right anterior cingulate cortex. In addition, a significant negative association between Smartphone Addiction Inventory scores and left orbitofrontal Gray Matter Volume was found.
This study provides first evidence for distinct structural and functional correlates of behavioral addiction in individuals meeting psychometric criteria for Smart Phone Addiction. Given their widespread use and increasing popularity, the present study questions the harmlessness of smartphones, at least in individuals that may be at increased risk for developing smartphone-related addictive behaviors.
Of course, what the study does not investigate is what actually caused these changes in gray matter volume and reduced neural activity. Was this a result of some physiological reaction to the levels of electromagnetic radiation emitted by the phones, or was it a purely psychological/addictive reaction to the amount of time spent on the phones?
It will be interesting to see whether Dr Griffiths’ book throws any light on this. But meanwhile it maybe gives weight to those who suggest that we should be applying the precautionary principle to our wholesale adoption of technologies such as smart phones until we have a better idea of what the downsides to their immense convenience might be.