By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Two of Apple’s major investors worry about what smartphones are doing to our mental health. Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) have asked the tech giant to study the impact of the phones and come up with ways for parents to restrict their children’s access.

So, are we addicted to our smartphones? Good Question.

“The answer is yes, if it’s causing a problem, and no, if it’s not,” Dr. Kaz Nelson, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said.

She says it becomes a problem if it causes a person anxiety, depression, negativity or gets in the way of their other goals and healthy well-being. It also become dangerous is a person can’t put down the phone while driving.

“If every time you’re trying to concentrate and get a task done and a text intrudes forcing you to do two things at once, that can impact productivity,” Dr. Nelson said.

Apple says people unlock their phones, on average, 80 times a day.

Dr. Nelson also points out the human body is wired to respond the social aspect of the phone. When someone gets a text, email, notification, message or like, the brain releases a pleasure chemical called dopamine. That bit of dopamine keeps a person coming back for more.

According to a 60 Minutes story from April, tech companies know this phenomenon to be case and update the technology to encourage people to use it more.

The American Psychiatric Association doesn’t list cell phones on its mental disorder list. Instead, Dr. Nelson says experts are less likely to consider any cellphone an addictive disorder, but rather a pattern of behavior.

“There’s a lot of disagreement in the field,” Dr. Nelson said. “Some would say yes, absolutely, others would say no, this falls short of meeting criteria from mental psychiatric disorder.”

According to a review of the literature on this topic published in 2016, “It is highly probable that we may regard the cellphone as an object of easy addiction for vulnerable, addictive, or problematic personalities while allowing for problematic and compulsory use in specific situations and contexts.”

Dr. Nelson there are few long-term studies on the psychological impact of smartphones because the technology is relatively new. But, she says there are clues that excessive screen time could be a distraction and not allow children’s brains to rest or develop and grow in different ways.

Heather Brown


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