This post is based on an answer by Arpan Roy to the question “Why are people so addicted to their cell phones/smart phones?” that appeared originally on Quora.
A neurotransmitter in your brain called Dopamine is the cause of your smartphone addiction.
Dopamine a “feel good chemical” is a neurotransmitter in our brain which although critical for more mental and physical functions plays an important role is reward seeking behavior.
Dopamine motivates you to seek pleasure giving rewards like food, sex and some cases drugs. When you are experiencing something new or most importantly, anticipating something new dopamine levels rise motivating you further.
Smartphones are not by themselves addictive without the presence of the internet or social media. But once connected they provide three different pathways of pleasure.
#1 Rewards of Hunt
Not only are we addicted to plain old physical pleasure but hunting for new information or just reading and learning new stuff provides a dopamine rush unlike others. This is the very reason you are reading this article right now and sites like Quora or IFLS are so popular.
#2 Rewards of Self
Another reward pathway for a dopamine rush is being validated and liked by others. Every time someone likes your Facebook photos or in my case up votes this answer I will derive pleasure and dopamine will rush into my brain causing me to write more stuff.
#3 Rewards of Tribe
We all want a feeling of belonging to a larger group and being accepted. Smartphone and social media allows this by being part of meetup groups, discussion forums, Facebook chat groups and other instant messaging groups.
Next time your phone buzzes, while you reach for it anticipating a new validation on your social media or a news snippet, your dopamine levels rise in anticipation.
Once you have been properly rewarded with such information a new pleasure seeking habit it formed. In simple terms you are basically hooked to your phone and would wait in anticipation of rewards again and again.