Researchers in Germany have discovered that those suffering from “smartphone addiction” have a slightly different brain structure to those with more moderate phone use.
This is something of a chicken and egg situation, given that the researchers are unsure whether the changes in the brain occurred due to phone use or whether the different volume of grey matter made the “addicts” more inclined to use their phones more.
The team carried out MRI scans on the brains of 22 people “addicted” to their phone and 26 who are not. Researchers from Heidelberg University said:
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 behaviours.
People using their phones a disproportionate amount showed reduced activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (a region linked to a broad range of cognitive processes) as well as lower amounts of grey matter in certain key areas of the brain.
The preferred term is still “problematic smartphone use”, rather than "addiction". The average person in the US spends around 5.4 hours a day on their phone, with young people clocking up 5.7 hours a day, according to one analysis. While the point at which this becomes a problem is up for debate, and might depend on the person, these scientists are one step closer to proving such a thing should be deemed an addiction.
So if you're addicted to your phone, it might be because of the structure of your brain, or be changing the structure of your brain.