Spot on Science: Electronic Addiction

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[Margaret] Have you ever thought about thinking? Okay, it's enough to give me a headache. But that's exactly what psychology is: the study of the brain and how it impacts emotion and behavior. And someone who does this professionally is called a psychologist. They can work in all sorts of fields from figuring out what kind of commercial can get me to buy candy to how to stop fighting with my siblings. Now, I invited psychologist Dr. Jay Berk to the studio to tell me about the area he focuses on: kids and electronics. He's been studying why we can't put down our phones or the video game controllers until we've just gotten to that next level. When it gets bad, it's called electronic addiction. Take a listen.

- So, electronic addiction would be different than electronic usage. So, let me explain. I think it's important for people to understand. Lots of people use electronics. Electronics are part of everybody's life right now. And so people are having to understand that electronic addiction means you're having a problem related to the use of electronics. So a good way to say it would be you use the electronics despite negative consequences in your life from somewhere. You're getting in trouble at school, your parents are saying you're on too long, your grades are suffering, your friends are suffering. That's a signal that you're having a problem, versus there's a healthy balance in your life, you're playing a little bit of video games, you're still out with your friends, you're still playing sports, you're in arts, you're in music, drama. Whatever you're doing, there's a balance. That's the key.

- And it's important for kids who are younger to start making healthy habits so that it doesn't spiral out of control. What are some tips that you have to make healthy habits when it comes to electronics?

- Well, I think, um, so the goal is is that the kid is able to set a limit that they're gonna manage themselves, which I think is key for anything. It's like, I'm gonna do my homework on my own, I'm going to exercise on my own. So it's if you're setting a limit and you're not staying to it, that's a problem. Now, some of you kids out there might want to think about this. It's a fun question. What's the original video game? You're young. What's the original video game that was out there?

- Pac-Man?

- Pac-Man, it's older than Pac-Man.

- Pong.

- Pong, excellent! So Pong had three turns. Boop, boop, ball back on forth. Pong had three turns. So now one of the things you're seeing is there's no endpoint to video games. So when your mom says, "Come down for dinner," and, "I'll be down after this game," that could be three years from now. In Pong it was very different.

[Margaret] Right.

- So the games are designed to be more addictive. So for kids to know, addictive means you have a harder time stopping. Some of you that are playing games might see this, which is I don't want to get off the game because the game's gonna penalize me by blocking me from the game for a certain amount of time if I get off. And that's important, because they're psychologically set up to do that. They don't want you quitting in the middle of the game.

- So it's important to remember that you're playing a game. You want to outsmart it in knowing that it wants you to keep playing.

- Well, outsmart it. So for example, if your friends are on the game, you don't want to quit because your friends are on the game. So being able to say to your friends, "No, I have to get off. "I have to get my homework done," that's what we're looking for: kids that can manage that kind of thing. Because it's like, "All my friends are still playing. "I don't want to get off. "I don't want to finish my homework. Then it's 10 o'clock at night, homework's not done, they're falling asleep at school during the day. That's a problem.

- Definitely, definitely. Well thank you so much for coming in to chat a little bit about this.

- I appreciate the opportunity to talk.

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