Cell phone radio frequency radiation increases cancer risk*

cellphone radiation with source

Be safe rather than sorry. Cellphone radio frequency radiation is harmful!

The National Toxicology Program (NTP) released on October 31, 2018 their final report on rat and mouse studies of radio frequency radiation like that used with cellphones. The $30 million NTP studies took more than 10 years to complete and are the most comprehensive assessments to date of health effects in animals exposed to Radio Frequency Radiation (RFR) with modulations used in 2G and 3G cell phones. 2G and 3G networks were standard when the studies were designed and are still used for phone calls and texting.

The report concluded there is clear evidence that male rats exposed to high levels of radio frequency radiation (RFR) like that used in 2G and 3G cell phones developed cancerous heart tumors, according to final reports. There was also some evidence of tumors in the brain and adrenal gland of exposed male rats. For female rats, and male and female mice, the evidence was equivocal as to whether cancers observed were associated with exposure to RFR.

The exposures used in the studies cannot be compared directly to the exposure that humans experience when using a cell phone,” said John Bucher, Ph.D., NTP senior scientist. “In our studies, rats and mice received radio frequency radiation across their whole bodies. By contrast, people are mostly exposed in specific local tissues close to where they hold the phone. In addition, the exposure levels and durations in our studies were greater than what people experience.”

In the NTP study, the lowest exposure level used in the studies was equal to the maximum local tissue exposure currently allowed for cell phone users. This power level rarely occurs with typical cell phone use. The highest exposure level in the studies was four times higher than the maximum power level permitted.  Butcher state, “We believe that the link between radio frequency radiation and tumors in male rats is real, and the external experts agreed.”

I interpret that their results support the previous–often contested–observations that brain cancers were more prevalent in high cell phone users especially on the side of the head they held the cellphone.

More some women who have habitually stashed their cell phone in their bra have been diagnosed with a rare breast cancer located beneath the area of the breast where they stored their cell phone.  Watch the heart breaking TV interview with Tiffany. She was 21 years old when she developed breast cancer which was located right beneath the breast were she had kept her cell phone against her bare skin for the last 6 years.

While these rare cases could have occurred by chance, they could also be an early indicator of risk. Previously, most research studies were based upon older adults who have tended to use their mobile phone much less than most young people today. The average age a person acquires a mobile phone is ten years old (this data was from 2016 and many children now have cellphones even earlier).  Often infants and toddlers are entertained by smartphones and tablets–the new technological babysitter.  The possible risk may be much greater for a young people since their bodies and brains are still growing rapidly.  I wonder if the antenna radiation may be one of the many initiators or promoters of later onset cancers.  We will not know the answer; since, most cancer take twenty or more years to develop.

What can you do to reduce risk?

Act now and reduce the exposure to the antenna radiation by implementing the following suggestions:

  • Keep your phone, tablet or laptop in your purse, backpack or briefcase. Do not keep it on or close to your body.
  • Use the speakerphone or  earphones with microphone while talking.  Do not hold it against the side of your head, close to your breast or on your lap.
  • Text while the phone is on a book or on a table away from your body.
  • Put the tablet and laptop on a table and away from the genitals.
  • Set the phone to airplane mode.
  • Be old fashioned and use a cable to connect to your home router instead of relying on the WiFi connection.
  • Keep your calls short and enjoy the people in person.
  • Support legislation to label wireless devices with a legible statement of possible risk and the specific absorption rate (SAR) value. Generally, higher the SAR value, the higher the exposure to antenna radiation.
  • Support the work by the Environmental Health Trust.

For an radio interview on this topic, listen to my interview on Deborah Quilter’s radio show. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rsihelp/2018/11/20/why-you-should-keep-your-cell-phone-away-from-your-body-with-dr-erik-peper

For more information on NTP study see:

*The blog is adapted in part from the November 1, 2018 news release from the National Toxicology Program (NTP)1, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences2, National Institute of Health (NIH)3.

  1. About the National Toxicology Program (NTP):NTP is a federal, interagency program headquartered at NIEHS, whose goal is to safeguard the public by identifying substances in the environment that may affect human health. For more information about NTP and its programs, visit niehs.nih.gov.
  2. About the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS): NIEHS supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human health and is part of NIH. For more information on environmental health topics, visit niehs.nih.gov. Subscribe to one or more of the NIEHS news lists (www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsroom/newslist/index.cfm) to stay current on NIEHS news, press releases, grant opportunities, training, events, and publications.
  3. About the National Institutes of Health (NIH):NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit nih.gov.

    

 

 


A view of the near future: Borderless

Faced with the challenges of fake news or the role of social media in shaping people’s actions, you may wonder what the future brings. Science fiction of the near future may suggest what could happen.  I am so proud that my son, Eliot Peper, has explored these issues in his just published book, Borderless.

borderlesscan

As he wrote,  Borderless is a speculative thriller about a refugee-turned-rogue-spy navigating a geopolitical labyrinth through a near future where information is power and whoever controls the feed rules the world. Lush, nuanced, and philosophical, the story grapples with the decline of the nation state, the rise of tech platforms, and reconciling sins of the past with dreams of the future. Craig Newmark calls it, “A riveting cautionary tale about how the control of information could lead to new forms of democratic governance, or to accidental empires. Rooted in the current realities of the internet and social media, Borderless explores a near future in which our lives are shaped without our conscious consideration.”

Unlike any other book I’ve written, Borderless had a title before I sat down to draft chapter one. The dismantling of borders is a powerful theme in my life, and I began to recognize it beneath the surface of the headlines. The characters, plot, and world gravitated around this core idea before falling into place as I made my way through the manuscript.

I am a child of immigrants.

My father is from The Hague. My Jewish paternal grandfather was one of the only members of his family to survive World War II. He hid in a secret compartment while Nazi patrols searched their cramped apartment. Meanwhile, my paternal grandmother, a Protestant, became a secret agent of the Dutch resistance, ferrying information, supplies, and people out of the camps, even as she raised and protected her family. They fled to the United States when they worried that the Cold War might devolve into a third World War.

My mother is from Vancouver. Her family immigrated to Canada from the Orkney Islands north of Scotland, and for them, British Columbia must have felt tropical. I have many fond memories of scrambling over rocks and sneaking through forests on Vancouver Island with my cousins. And, of course, huddling around the monitor’s glow to play Final Fantasy VII while our parents shook their heads in bewilderment.

My wife is from Colombia, and her family escaped the drug violence that plagued Cali by moving to Connecticut. Just before I embarked on Borderless, we volunteered with a local resettlement agency to host a Ugandan refugee in our home in Oakland. The initial commitment was for three months, but Marvin ended up staying for nine months and became a dear friend. We’ve learned an enormous amount from each other, and he continues to find it quite odd that my “job” is writing books.

As I prepared to write this particular book, I couldn’t help but notice how different our world today is from the one my grandparents inhabited. Baby pictures from friends living in a far-off Austrian village greet me when I go online after my morning coffee. A momentary uptick in Sri Lankan tea prices zips through global markets at the impossible speed of high-frequency trading. We can fly halfway around the world only to board an on-demand car service and stay in a stranger’s apartment complete with an unfamiliar toilet and a friendly list of local tips taped to the fridge.

While I worked my way through the rough draft, more modern oddities presented themselves. I used Google Maps to track the trajectory of a character’s flight to and from the Arctic. I played around with a research tool that projects the impacts of sea-level rise on specific urban areas. I discovered the beautiful true story of the Golden Record via Maria Popova’s peerless blog, Brainpickings. Just for fun, I backed a Swedish artist’s Kickstarter project and began a collaboration with a designer living in Argentina and an illustrator living in New Zealand. My grandfather spoke Esperanto, but he would never have recognized this weird dimension we insist on calling “reality.”

Cars, telegrams, planes, phones, trains, broadcast media, and container ships made the world smaller. Now the internet is stitching the strange, scary, and wonderful pieces together into a single civilization.

Unfortunately the results aren’t always pretty. As I write this, authoritarian populism is rearing its ugly head, hate-mongers dominate the news cycle, and a country of immigrants is beginning to turn away people like Marvin. This is something my grandparents would recognize in a heartbeat.

Fear at an uncertain future is all too understandable. Technology isn’t just making our national borders more porous; it’s shifting the borders of the twentieth-century social contract and causing a lot of people a lot of suffering. But letting fear get in the way of reason leads to ruin. Civilization is more delicate than it seems, and unlike previous civilizations that were geographically limited, this is the only one we’ve got.

Progress is painful. We use technology to do work we would prefer to avoid, and then need to make up new jobs for ourselves. We enjoy the cheap prices made possible by offshore manufacturing, and then realize we can’t enforce social or environmental regulations across the supply chain. We download entire libraries of pirated music, and then discover we must support artists if we want more of what we love.

Problems beget solutions beget new problems. The snake eats its tail, and we go round and round again. But that doesn’t mean things don’t get better. Child mortality, infectious disease, poverty, and violent death are at all-time lows. Literacy, longevity, and scientific knowledge are at all-time highs. There isn’t a time in all of history I’d rather live in than the present, and there’s nothing more important than doing our part to build a better future.

When I finally reached the end of the rough draft, Diana, the protagonist, had become a close friend. As a quirky and dangerously competent spy, she was enormous fun to write. Chapter by chapter, she developed a stronger and stronger sense of agency until I felt like I was documenting her adventures rather than inventing them. Diana proved herself to be the kind of person who doesn’t shy away from hard truths, who confronts and overcomes her own flaws, who aspires to serve rather than rule others, and who fights through all the madness and pain that life throws her way in order to do what she feels is right.

I have a lot to learn from her. Perhaps we all do.

Thank you for reading. I put everything I have into this story, and if you’re still with me, I can only hope that it will resonate with you. As in so many other arenas of life, the borders delineating the publishing industry are changing fast. But there’s at least one thing that’s as true as ever: writers write manuscripts, but books succeed thanks to the support and enthusiasm of readers. If you enjoy Borderless, please leave a review and tell your friends about it. It may feel insignificant, but nothing is more powerful than word of mouth.

Onward and upward.

Selected praise:

“A sharply rendered, wildly entertaining thriller speaking to the dangerous realities of our present: climate change, the changing shape of power, the very American values that defined Peper’s grandparents’ post-war lives—themes that are now fraught within our real world as it becomes increasingly globalized and divided.”
East Bay Express

“William Gibson meets Daniel Suarez. Launching the reader into a world dominated by massive tech companies and struggling nation states, Borderless explores frighteningly plausible scenarios that extrapolate the social implications of privacy, data, and national sovereignty. Diana, a refugee-turned-secret-agent, barrels through Bay Area hipster hangouts and the inner sanctums of geopolitical power on her way to shaping a future that feels like it’s right around the corner. Borderless is fresh, intriguing, and inevitable.”
-John Hanke, CEO at Niantic and creator of Google Maps, Google Earth, and Pokémon Go

“Clock-ticking suspense… Resonates resoundingly with present-day headlines about net neutrality and global dependence on the internet.”
Publishers Weekly

“Spectacular. Peper just gets better and better with each book. I stayed up way past my bedtime reading it. Riveting, relevant, and wonderful.”
-Brad Feld, managing director at Foundry Group

“Every empire builds an information infrastructure. Rome built roads. The British had an imperial telegraph system. What happens when the infrastructure is independent of the empires? That’s the fascinating question explored by Borderless, an entertaining novel of intrigue and action full of troubled heroes and imperfect compromises.”
-Peter Cowhey, dean of UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy & Strategy and Qualcomm Endowed Chair in Communications and Technology Policy

“Peper does an outstanding job of researching his books and painting futures that are all too plausible.”
The Geekiverse

“Eliot Peper’s Analog trilogy continues the war between the establishment and the future. This is Diana’s book: the freelance spy faces down her past and her present, to build a better tomorrow. Peper channels John Perry Barlow and declares independence.”
-Simon Le Gros Bisson, technology journalist

“Through exciting twists and turns, Borderless explores how the rise of tech platforms challenges traditional nation states.”
-Azeem Azhar’s Exponential View

“More action. More suspense. More intrigue. More of everything in the second installment of the Analog Series, Borderless.”
-Bernard Jan

“Rising science fiction star Eliot Peper takes us into a near future where everyone, every nation, and everything depends on the feed—an extension of the dominant social media companies that dominate the news today. Compelling action is mixed with thoughtful treatises on the power of information and who should control it, and on the nature of human relationships. Borderless is a timely novel, and a worthy sequel to Bandwidth.”
-Glen Hiemstra, founder of Futurist.com

“Peper is on top of his game and delivers a stunning look into our future with Borderless. If I had a connection with a TV or movie studio and I was able to pitch one thing to them – it would be this series.”
-Brian Krespan


Expand your horizon: Listen to Podcasts

Nearly every day when I listen to podcasts while commuting I learn something new that challenges my assumptions or that makes me say to myself, “Oh, I never thought of that.”

world

For thousands of years, ideas, myths, and history were transmitted through oral story telling.  When we listen, our imagination has the opportunity to create and illustrate the scenes described in the story. Often this imaginary world is more vivid and real than the actual world. That is why it always seems to be true that “the book was so much better than the movie.” Unlike film, where the audiovisual experience are controlled, listening to oral storytelling provides the opportunity to create your own imagery and widen your perspective.

Take charge on where you choose to focus your attention.  Instead of being hijacked by the headlines, listen to in-depth analysis, stories and different points of view provided by podcasts.  In many cases what we thought was “the truth” may be just one more biased opinion. While driving, commuting on public transportation, or sitting at home, listen to podcasts to expand your horizon. Podcasts are the modern equivalent of sharing stories around a campfire.    The following are a few of the podcasts that I enjoy. Please let me know your favorites.

Hidden Brain. Shankar Vedantam uses science and storytelling to reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, shape our choices and direct our relationships. https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510308/hidden-brain

Revisionist History. Malcolm Gladwell’s journey through the overlooked and the misunderstood. Every episode re-examines something from the past—an event, a person, an idea, even a song—and asks whether we got it right the first time.
Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance. http://revisionisthistory.com/

Freakonomics. Discover the hidden side of everything with Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of the Freakonomics books. Each week, Freakonomics Radio tells you things you always thought you knew (but didn’t) and things you never thought you wanted to know (but do) — from the economics of sleep to how to become great at just about anything. Dubner speaks with Nobel laureates and provocateurs, intellectuals and entrepreneurs, and various other underachievers. http://freakonomics.com/archive/

TED Talks Daily. Hear thought-provoking ideas on every subject imaginable — from Artificial Intelligence to Zoology, and everything in between — given by the world’s leading thinkers and doers. https://www.ted.com/about/programs-initiatives/ted-talks/ted-talks-audio

RadioLab. Hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich has been devoted to investigating a strange world. Radiolab has won Peabody Awards, a National Academies Communication Award “for their investigative use of radio to make science accessible to broad audience.” https://www.wnycstudios.org/shows/radiolab/podcasts

 

 


Do better in math: Don’t slouch-Be tall!

“When I saw the exam questions, I blanked out and slouched in defeat. Then I shifted to an erect/tall position and took a diaphragmatic breath. All of a sudden I remembered the answer.”                                                                                                                        College student

Anticipating that math is difficult, experiencing test anxiety, blanking out on exams, or being scared when asked to give class presentation are common experiences of many students.  Their thoughts include, “I am not good enough,“What will the other students think,”  “I am embarrassed and can’t remember what to say,” or “I only thought of the correct answer after it was all over.” Many students report some test anxiety: 32% report severe test anxiety, fear of math and blanking out on exams while less than 10 percent report minimal test anxiety, fear of math and blanking out on exams.

When students anticipate that they will perform poorly on an exam or class presentation, they tend to sit in a slouched or collapsed position, coincident with feelings of powerlessness, hopelessness and defeat. This posture not only communicates to others that they are powerless and defeated, it also decreases their self-esteem, mood and cognitive performance.  In previous research, Tsai et al (2016) and Peper et al (2017) observed that when participants sat in a slouched posture, they could access hopeless, helpless, powerless and defeated memories much more easily than when they sat in the upright/erect position.  In the upright position it was much easier to access positive and empowering memories. For numerous participants they also experienced being captured and flooded by emotions associated with defeat and hopelessness when they slouched. These feelings and memories associated with a slouched posture may affect how we feel and perform. Nair et al (2015) found that adopting an upright seated posture in the face of stress can maintain self-esteem, reduce negative mood, and increase positive mood as compared to a slumped posture. Furthermore, sitting upright increases rate of speech and reduces self-focus.” Posture may also affect our hormone levels. Harvard Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy has reported that sitting in a slouched posture (powerless position) decreased testosterone (the hormone associated dominance and assertiveness) and increased cortisol (the hormone associated with stress) and performance on a stressor test (Cuddy, 2012; Carney et al, 2010). 

This blog points out how posture significantly impacts math performance especially for students who have test anxiety, are fearful of math, and blank out on exams and is adapted from our published research article, Peper, E., Harvey, R., Mason, L., & Lin, I-M. (2018). Do better in math: How your body posture may change stereotype threat response. NeuroRegulation, 5(2), 67-74 

In our study 125 university students participated. Half the students sat in an erect position while the other half sat in a slouched position and were asked to mentally subtract 7 serially from 964 for 30 seconds. They then reversed the positions before repeating the math subtraction task beginning at 834. They rated the math task difficulty on a scale from 0 (none) to 10 (extreme).

Fig 1 Slouch collapse positionFigure 1. Sitting in a collapsed position and upright position (photo from: http://news.sfsu.edu/news-story/good-posture-important-physical-and-mental-health)

The students rated the mental math significantly more difficult while sitting slouched than while sitting erect as shown in Figure 2.

Fig 2 difficulty in math by positionFigure 2. The subjective rating of difficulty in performing the serial 7 math subtraction when sitting in a collapsed or upright position.

For the students with the lowest 30% test anxiety, math difficulty and blanking out scores, there was no significant difference between slouched and erect positions in mental math performance.  More importantly, students with the highest 30% test anxiety, math difficulty and blanking out scores rated the math task significantly more difficult and some could not do it at all and blanked out in the slouched position as compared to the erect position as shown in Figure 3.

Fig 3 30 percent math performanceFigure 3. Effect of posture on math performance for students with test anxiety, math difficulty and blanking out.

 The students with the highest test anxiety, math difficulty and blanking out scores also reported significantly more somatic symptoms as compared with those with the lowest scores as shown in Figure 4.

Fig 4 SymptomsFigure 4. Self-reported symptoms associated with the highest and lowest 30% of summed test anxiety, math difficulty and blanking out.

Discussion

Posture affects mental math and inhibit abstract thinking. By incorporating posture changes clinicians and teachers may help students improve performance.  The slouched position was associated with increased difficulty in performing a math subtraction task for 15 seconds, especially for students reporting higher test anxiety, math difficulty and blanking out on exams. In contrast, slouched position had no significant effect on students who reported that they were not stressed about performance. For participants who report higher test anxiety, math difficulty and blanking out they also reported significant increase in breathing difficulty, neck and shoulder tension, headaches, depression and anxiety. Most likely, the students attribute physiological reactions such as increased heart rate and breathing changes negatively, which amplifies their negative self-perception and exacerbates their anxiety symptoms which then may inhibit their cognitive ability to perform on math tasks.

The slouched position combined with the somatic symptoms activate are part of the a “defense reaction.” The slouch posture evokes a classically conditioned response to protect oneself under conditions of perceived physical threat. The activation of this defense pattern is associated with reduced levels of abstract thinking and frontal cortical deactivation as observed in this study.  This biological defense response is triggered when the person expects the situation to be ‘dangerous’ and include conditions of social-evaluative threat. By changing posture to an erect/upright posture appears to inhibit the defense reaction; thus, the person may perform better on cognitive tasks. 

Summary

Head-upright/erect postures may make it easier to access ‘positive and empowering’ thoughts and memories, thereby helping students, especially those who are anxious or fearful of math and blank-out during exams,   Anxious students who also slouch may benefit from training with a posture feedback  devices such as the UpRight Go™[1].  We recommend that students use posture feedback to become aware of the situations that are associated with slouching, such as ergonomic factors (looking down at the screen), being tired, or having depressive thoughts or feeling of powerless and defeat. 

The moment students experience the feedback that they are slouching, they become aware and have the option to shift to an upright posture and perform interventions to counter the factors that caused the slouching.  These interventions included ergonomic changes of their computer or laptop, transforming self-critical thoughts to empowering thoughts, or taking a break or performing movements. When students practice these interventions for four weeks, they report an increase of confidence, decrease in stress levels and an improvement in health and performance (Colombo et al, 2017; Harvey et al, in press). Equally important is to teach the participants self-regulation strategies  such as slower breathing, heart rate variability training, and muscle relaxation to reduce symptoms. The training needs to be generalized and practiced at home, school or work.

We recommend that students guide themselves through the posture positions as described in this research while performing mental math to experience how posture impacts performance. This experiential practice may increase motivation to be tall since the participant can now have a choice based upon self-experience.

Take home message echoes what your mother said, “Don’t slouch. Sit up tall!” 

  • If you feel secure and safe, posture has little to no effect on performance–you can be collapsed or slouched.
  • If you are anxious and fearful, sitting tall/erect may improve your performance.
  • If you want to become aware when you slouch, posture feedback from a wearable posture feedback device such as an UpRight Go can provide vibration feedback each time you slouch. The feedback can be the reminder to sit tall and change your thoughts.
  • If you automatically slouch while working at the computer or sitting in chair, change your furniture so that you sit in an upright position while studying or watching digital devices.
  • If you experience significant somatic symptoms (e.g., headaches, breathing difficulty, neck and shoulder tension, or depression and anxiety) learn self-regulation skills such as slower diaphragmatic breathing and heartrate variability training in conjunction with transforming negative self-talk to positive self-talk to improve performance.

Changing posture may also impact other areas of one’s life besides improving math performance as illustrated by the report from a mother of ten-year old boy.  

”At the moment I am trying to be aware of the situation in front of me rather that reacting to it. For example, yesterday my son who is 10 had a bad mood and I did not know what had happened, and he at first refused to tell me. Because I was aware of the posture information I could help him open up by making him change his posture without knowing. He became more open and told me what had happened earlier and I could help him move forward.”

REFERENCES

Carney, D. R., Cuddy, A. J., & Yap, A. J. (2010). Power posing brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance. Psychological Science, 21(10), 1363–1368.

Colombo, S., Joy, M., Mason, L., Peper, E., Harvey, R., & Booiman, A.C. (2017). Posture Change Feedback Training and its Effect on Health. Poster presented at the 48th Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Chicago, IL March, 2017. Abstract published in Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback.42(2), 147.

Cuddy, A. (2012). Your body language shapes who you are. Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) Talk, available at:  www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are

Harvey, R., Mason, L., Joy, M., & Peper, E. (in press). Effect of Posture Feedback Training on Health, Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. 

Nair, S., Sagar, M., Sollers, III, J., Consedine, N. & Broadbent, E.  (2015). Do Slumped and Upright Postures Affect Stress Responses? A Randomized Trial. Health Psychology, 34(6), 632–641.

Peper, E., Harvey, R., Mason, L., & Lin, I-M. (2018). Do better in math: How your body posture may change stereotype threat response. NeuroRegulation, 5(2), 67-74

Peper, E., Lin, I-M., Harvey, R., & Perez, J. (2017). How posture affects memory recall and mood.  Biofeedback.45 (2), 36-41.

Tsai, H. Y., Peper, E., & Lin, I. M.* (2016). EEG patterns under positive/negative body postures and emotion recall tasks. NeuroRegulation, 3(1), 23-27.

[1] UpRight Go is produced by Upright Technologies. LTD, Ha’atzmaut 56, Yehud 5630425, Israel  https://www.uprightpose.com

 


Digital addiction*

CartoonFrom: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/life-without-cellphone-waseem-abbas/

I felt dismissed and slighted when in the middle of dinner, my friend picked up his phone and quickly glanced at the notification.  The message appeared more important than me.

I had accidentally left my phone at home and the whole day long, I kept reaching for it to check email and social media feeds-I felt emotionally lost.

The host at the dinner party asked us to turn our phone off or leave it at the door.  At first I felt the impulse to check my phone, but during the evening I really connected with the other people.  

As I was running on the trail behind UC Berkeley enjoying the expansive view of the San Francisco Bay, an other idea for this article popped into my head–the importance of taking time to reflect and allow neural regeneration. I rushed back to add those concepts to the article.

When observing university students sitting in the classroom, I see them alone with their heads down looking at their mobile phone. When students enter a classroom, during class breaks, or after class they are continually texting, scrolling, clicking or looking at their smartphone screen instead of engaging with people next to them.  The same habits exist outside the classroom, whether they are leaning against the walls in the hallways, walking between classes, eating pizzas, or standing on the bus, the iNeck posture has become the all too common body position.

We respond automatically to notifications from email, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter.  Each notification feels so important that we interrupt what we are doing and look at the screen.  The notifications activate neurological pathways that would have been triggered if we perceived a danger signal in our environment (e.g., a carnivore) that would threaten our existence. In addition, it provides updates on our social environment which would be necessary for our group’s survival.

This orienting process is automatic. For example, when you sit next to someone and they open their computer screen – without being prompted and against social etiquette – you automatically glance at their screen. The changing visual stimulation especially in the peripheral vision triggers us to orient to the cause of the visual changes.  In the past these peripheral changes would indicate that there is something going to which we need to pay attention.  It could be the tiger shadowing us or a possible enemy.  Now the ongoing visual display changes hijacks our vigilance that evolved over millions of years for survival. Looking at and being captured by the screen has now become an evolutionary trap (Peper, 2015). A fictional account of the stress generated during  texting when there is not an immediate response is superbly described  by Aziz Ansari & Eric Klinenberg (2015) in their book Modern Romance.

Besides automatically responding to the novel stimuli, our neural reward pathways are activated when we respond to the stimulus, click and scroll and are rewarded by text, videos, or music. The rewards from our scrolling, clicking and surfing are intermittent and creates the internet addiction.

As a result, many people preemptively check their phone or automatically respond to notifications during their waking hours. In social situations, constant phone interruptions cause others to feel slighted and snubbed. In our research students who use their phone the most experience significantly higher levels of isolation/loneliness, depression and anxiety than those who use their phone the least as shown in Figure 1 (Peper et al, 2016).

high and low

Figure 1. Self-reports of isolation, depression and anxiety were significantly higher for students who use their phone the most as compared to those who use their phone the least during socializing.  Reproduced with permission from Peper et al, 2016.

Being on-call and continuously checking the phone also contributes to multitasking which interrupts attention and performance (Jarmon, 2008; Brinols & Rajesh, 2014). Many students no longer focus on one task at hand; instead, they are multitasking and interrupt their tasks by by responding to social media, listening to music or surfing the web (Swingle, 2016Clement and Miles, 2018).   In our recent survey of 135 university students, almost all report that they multitask even though it would be better to focus on the required task and shift focus after the task was done as is shown in Figure 2 (Peper et al, 2014).

multitasking

Figure 2. Self-report of multitasking. Reproduced with permission from Peper et al, 2014.

How come we have become so addicted that we feel the urgency to check our phones day and night even if when there are no notifications?

The screen is the first focus of attention when we wake up and the last one before sleep. We cannot even wait to finish a meal or talk to a friend before checking the phone for possible updates.  For this addictive behavior, we can thank the major tech companies who have hired the smartest and brightest engineers, programmers and scientists to develop software and hardware to capture our attentions and conditions us to be addicted to increase corporate profit: more eyeballs, more clicks, more money. For a detailed analysis of how Tech companies created our addiction, see the superb article by Michael Schulson (2018), If the internet is addictive, why don’t we regulate it?

Do not place the blame on the child or adult who claim they do not have self-control.  The addiction was predominantly created by tech companies in their quest to capture market share by exploiting our natural evolutionary survival responses to orient and attend to a change in our visual and auditory world which has become an evolutionary trap. By providing intermittent reinforcers, the addiction is quickly established and challenging to overcome (Alter, 2017).  The addiction is similar to the opioid addiction which was created by pharmaceutical companies in their on-going quest to increase profits. Just as opioid addiction leads to long term harm, I wonder about the long term harm of internet addiction. It may be worse than the opioid addiction because it reduces actual social connections and emotional regulation, increases distractibility and attention deficit and, and decreases self-initiative (proactive versus reactive behavior) which may result in compromised health and well-being.

Being plugged-in and connected limits the time for reflection and regeneration. This un-programed time allows new ideas and concepts to emerge, provides time to assess your own and other people’s actions from a distant perspective.  It offers the pause that refreshes and time for neural regeneration. Our nervous system, just like our muscular system, grow when there is enough time to regenerate after being stressed. Ongoing stress or stimulation without time to regenerate leads to illness and neural death.  The phenomena can be seen in the development of rat brains.

Neuroanatomist Professor Marion Diamond showed that rats who were brought up in an impoverished environment and had very little stimulation had a thinner cortex and less dendritic connections than rats brought up in an enriched environment (Rosenzweig, 1966; Diamond et al, 1975).  More importantly, an excessively enriched environment was associated to a reduction of neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity (Joels et al, 2004). The more hours of television a child between age 1 and 3 watched was directly correlated with associated attentional problems at age 7 (Christakis et al, 2004). This suggests that excessive stimulation during brain development may be harmful.  Thus,  from a biological perspective health is the alternation between activity and regeneration. If the brain is not allowed enough time to be off-line and regenerate, neural degeneration most likely will occur.

Mobilize your health and disconnect to allow regeneration. Take charge of your addiction,  regain social connections, and develop proactive attention.

  1. Recognize that you have been manipulated into addiction by the tech companies which have covertly conditioned you to react to notifications and creating the desire (addiction) to check for updates.
  2. Become proactive by limiting interruptions when you work and play.

Recommended readings

Alter, A. (2017). Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. New York: Penguin Press. Explores in detail how and why we have become addicted and offers strategies how we can harness the addiction for the good.

Clement, J. & Miles, M. (2018). Screen schooled-Two veteran teachers expose how technology overuse is making our kids dumber. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. A superb analysis how screen saturation at home and school has created a wide range of cognitive and social deficits in our young people.

Foer, F. (2017). World without mind-The existential threat of big tech. New York: Penguin Press. A passionate informed case that the great tech companies are robbing us of our individuality, humanity, our values and how to deal with complexity. It offers strategies to take back your autonomy and mind.

Swingle, M. (2016). i-Minds: How Cell Phones, Computers, Gaming, and Social Media are Changing our Brains, our Behavior, and the Evolution of our Species. Gabriola Island, BC
Canada: New Society Publishers. Based upon 18 years of clinical observations this book describes in detail how the digital revolution is change our brains and offers constructive strategies how to use the digital tool constructively.

* Adapted from Peper, E. & Harvey, R. (2018). Digital addiction: increased loneliness, depression, and anxiety. NeuroRegulation. 5(1),3–8doi:10.15540/nr.5.1.3

References

Alter, A. (2017). Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. New York: Penguin Press. Explores in detail how and why we have become addicted and offers strategies how we can harness the addiction for the good.

Ansari, A. & Klinenberg, E. (2015). Modern Romance 
by Penguin Press: New York.  https://www.amazon.com/Modern-Romance-Aziz-Ansari/dp/0143109251/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1518021029&sr=1-1&keywords=Modern+Romance

Brinols, A.B. & Rajesh, R. (2014). Multitasking with smartphones in the college classroom. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 77(1), 89–95. http://journals.sagepub.com.jpllnet.sfsu.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/2329490613515300

Christakis, D.A., Zimmerman, F.J., DiGiuseppe, D.L., &  McCarty, C.A. (2004). Early Television Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems in Children. Pediatrics. 113(4). http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/113/4/708

Clement, J. & Miles, M. (2018). Screen schooled-Two veteran teachers expose how technology overuse is making our kids dumber. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. https://www.amazon.com/Screen-Schooled-Veteran-Teachers-Technology/dp/1613739516

Diamond, M. C., Lindner, B., Johnson, R., Bennett, E. L., & Rosenzweig, M. R. (1975). Difference in occipital cortical synapses from environmentally enriched, impoverished, and standard colony rats. Journal of Neuroscience Research, 1(2), 109-119. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1223322

Jarmon, A. L. (2008). Multitasking: Helpful or harmful? Student Lawyer, 36(8), 31-35. https://ttu-ir-tdl-org.jpllnet.sfsu.edu/ttu-ir/bitstream/handle/10601/925/Jarmon_Multitasking%20Helpful%20or%20Harmful.pdf?sequence=1

Joels, M.., Karst, H., Alfarez, D.,  Heine, V.M., Qin, Y.,  van Riel, E., Verkuyl, M., Lucassen, P.J., & . Krugers, H.J. (2004). Effects of chronic stress on structure and cell function in rat hippocampus and hypothalamus. Stress, 7(4), 221-231. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10253890500070005

Peper, E., Harvey, R., Lin, E., Lau, S., Mitose, J., & Rogers. (2014). Cellphone and multitasking survey of college students.  Unpublished manuscript. San Francisco State University.

Peper, E. (2015). Evolutionary/environmental traps create illness: Be aware of commercialized stimuli. Psychophysiology Today-The E Magazine for Mind-Body Medicine. 10(1), 9-11. http://files.ctctcdn.com/c20d9a09001/eabdf1d4-f4a1-4eea-9879-44ff24e6224c.pdf

Peper, E., Silva, L.M., & Grasham, G. (2016). Cell phone use by university students. Unpublished manuscript, San Francisco State University.

Rosenzweig, M. R. (1966). Environmental complexity, cerebral change, and behavior. American Psychologist, 21(4), 321-332. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0023555

Shulson, M. (2018). If the internet is addictive, why don’t we regulate it?Aeon. https://aeon.co/essays/if-the-internet-is-addictive-why-don-t-we-regulate-it?utm_source=Aeon+Newsletter&utm_campaign=b9442547f4-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_01_29&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_411a82e59d-b9442547f4-68958453

Swingle, M. (2016). i-Minds: How Cell Phones, Computers, Gaming, and Social Media are Changing our Brains, our Behavior, and the Evolution of our Species. Gabriola Island, BC
Canada: New Society Publishers.