Why you cannot stop looking at your phone – and what to do about it

Why you cannot stop looking at your phone – and what to do about it

Phone addiction has become a major worry that can negatively impact your health. Let's have a look at some of the psychological tricks that keep us hooked.

Why do we get addicted to our phones?

Have you ever wondered why some people pick up their phone 30 seconds after putting it down? Developing a compulsive need to use your phone to the point that it interferes with your life and prevents you from doing things may be a sign of addiction. In recent years, phone addiction has become a major worry that can lead to depression, anxiety, or teen angst. But what is causing a problem? Let's have look at some of the psychological tricks used by technological companies to keep us hooked.

Fear Of Missing Out effect (FOMO)

The concept of FOMO (fear of missing out) has been around for centuries, but with the advent of new technologies and social media platforms, its impacts have been amplified. When someone senses an opportunity coming up, as well as the possibility of a reward, they are more likely to see if it pays off. Text messaging is one of the many instances of how this all works. When you're waiting for someone to respond to a text, those three dots are used to keep you glued to your phone in expectation of a reward - which is, of course, a response to your text! How is it possible, you may wonder? Because you are unclear about the outcome, it creates a minor stress response — waiting for something to happen (or not happen). Simultaneously, it increases dopamine release, which increases stimulation and keeps you coming back for more.

Mobile apps are frequently designed to tap into the part of your brain that is responsible for habit formation and addiction. The text message example we just gave isn't the only psychological ploy that makes you check your phone all the time.

Red notifications on your home screen

You've been snatched yet again. We have all come across those red notification buttons designed to make you stop, pay attention, be cautious, and act now. This causes cortisol (a well-known stress hormone) to be released, as well as an emotional response to act to remedy the issue – ergo, take action.


Refresh is another habit-forming feature that we all use. Social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook provide us with a limitless number of scrolling opportunities, and as soon as you become tired of waiting for a reward, you tap or pull to be rewarded with new content to scroll through.


Social media provides a platform for boasting; it is a place where objects, activities, and even happiness appear to be in competition at times. People compare their greatest, picture-perfect experiences, which may make you worry about what you're missing out on. Persuasive design stems from a desire to be liked or to have others agree with our viewpoints. Seeing a thumbs up or heart is arguably the greatest motivator to return to that platform.


Get ready! Persuasive technology is going to get even better

The rapid development of Artificial Intelligence will help technology companies in understanding human behaviour to determine when we are ready for another persuasion push to reward us and keep using their apps or platforms. Although technological advancements are unlikely to slow, being aware of these psychological tricks can help people cope with FOMO.

What can you do to reduce looking at your phone?

Be aware of the tricks that companies will take to keep you looking at your phone
Don’t ever feel like you are missing out if you are not on your phone. 
Identify the apps you like and get the most out of, delete any that make you feel sad and minimise the usage of those that decrease your mood in any way.
Make sure you have plenty of interaction away from your phone.
And most importantly, remember to have fun!