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Smartphone Addiction Is Real, It’s associated with Impaired Decision-making

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Brazilian Researchers Say Smartphone Addiction Is Real, And That It’s Associated With Impaired Decision-making

'Smartphone addiction (SA) is a controversial concept that is not recognised by psychiatry as a formal diagnosis. Critics say that a problematic relationship with one’s phone is usually a symptom of deeper underlying issues and that it is inappropriate to apply the language of addiction to technology. Nonetheless, other mental health experts believe SA is real and they’ve accumulated evidence suggesting it is associated with reductions in academic and work performance, sleep disorders, symptoms of depression and loneliness, declines in wellbeing – and an increased risk of road traffic accidents. According to a group of psychiatry and psychology researchers at one of the largest universities in Brazil, to that list can now be added: poorer decision-making.

Studies suggest that the numbers of people with notional SA (defined by difficulty in controlling use of the smartphone, constant preoccupation with the possibility of being without it, and poor mood when it is taken away) are high – about 25 per cent of the population in the US; 10 per cent of adolescents in the UK; and a massive 43 per cent of people in Brazil, where the new research, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, was conducted. Previous work has found that people with other forms of dependency, including drug and gambling addiction, show impaired decision-making in ambiguous situations, though not when the risks associated with making a decision are clearly outlined. Julia Machado Khoury at the Federal University of Minas Gerais and her colleagues, including lab head Frederico Duarte Garcia, wanted to know whether the same might be true for people with SA.

Using a Brazilian version of the Smartphone Addiction Inventory, which was created in 2014, the researchers identified 47 graduate students aged 18 to 25 who scored high enough to qualify as having an addiction (according to the developers of the Inventory). The researchers then compared these students’ performance with those of 43 matched controls on two widely-used decision-making tasks. In the Iowa Gambling Task, which is meant to simulate real-life decision-making, participants must make as much money as possible by selecting face-down cards from four different decks, with each card indicating whether they’ve earned or lost money. Two decks are more advantageous in the long term, but the participants have to work this out for themselves through trial and error. In contrast, the Game of Dice Task requires participants to make as much money as possible through a series of dice throws in which the rules and the probabilities of winning different amounts are stable and so predictable throughout.'

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