Does Internet Dopamine Stop You from #Reading #Books?

a.k. andrew, akandrew.com a writers notebook,readingWhere do you get your nightly dose of dopamine? No, let me put that a different way… What is your preferred visual stimulation of choice before you go to sleep? Watching a movie, the TV, going online and catching up on email, tweeting, texting, Facebook etc… or reading a book?

Come on, let’s be honest. I guarantee at least half of you did not go for the book reading option. So why is that? What’s happened to our bedtime story?

This is from a Post published by Susan Weinschenk Ph.D. on Sep 11, 2012 in Brain Wise which says that “Dopamine makes you addicted to seeking information in an endless loop.”  This is from Susan’s post:

Pleasure vs. seeking 

 You may have heard that dopamine controls the “pleasure” systems of the brain: that dopamine makes you feel enjoyment, pleasure, and therefore motivates you to seek out certain behaviors, such as food, sex, and drugs. Recent research is changing this view. Instead of dopamine causing you to experience pleasure, the latest research shows that dopamine causes seeking behavior. Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search.

Rewards of the Dopamine Loop

So what that’s telling us is that one tweet is never enough. We are going to continuously reward ourselves by searching for more information, more connection however tenuous it might be online. Who wouldn’t want to be rewarded each time we perform any of these tasks? And there is a sense of accomplishment that we have achieved something. What’s not to like?

This next part is from a more recent article published in the Guardian in January 2015, and is from a book by Daniel J. Levitin.

In a famous experiment, my McGill colleagues Peter Milner and James Olds, both neuroscientists, placed a small electrode in the brains of rats, in a small structure of the limbic system called the nucleus accumbens. This structure regulates dopamine production and is the region that “lights up” when gamblers win a bet, drug addicts take cocaine, or people have orgasms – Olds and Milner called it the pleasure centre. A lever in the cage allowed the rats to send a small electrical signal directly to their nucleus accumbens. Do you think they liked it? Boy how they did! They liked it so much that they did nothing else. They forgot all about eating and sleeping. Long after they were hungry, they ignored tasty food if they had a chance to press that little chrome bar; they even ignored the opportunity for sex. The rats just pressed the lever over and over again, until they died of starvation and exhaustion. Does that remind you of anything? A 30-year-old man died in Guangzhou (China) after playing video games continuously for three days. Another man died in Daegu (Korea) after playing video games almost continuously for 50 hours, stopped only by his going into cardiac arrest.

……. But remember, it is the dumb, novelty-seeking portion of the brain driving the limbic system that induces this feeling of pleasure, not the planning, scheduling, higher-level thought centres in the prefrontal cortex. Make no mistake: email-, Facebook- and Twitter-checking constitute a neural addiction.

© Daniel J. Levitin. Extracted from The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, published by Viking

Short attention Span

My concern is that all of this information that we constantly both receive and dispatch, essentially leads not to successful multitasking, but to a short attention span. And that is not something you can have if you want to read a book amongst other things.  What I’ve been in the habit of doing is to start reading and then feel compelled to look up the meaning of a word, or see exactly what part of the world is the author talking about, or when was that in relation to the first moon landing etc etc. Minutiae that I either dont need or could find out later, but have felt the need to immediately find out while I’m reading a novel!!!

Banished from the Bedside

So what I’ve been doing recently is banning all  electronic devices from my bedside table, as I was often ‘just quickly checking my email, twitter, Facebook account, etc, and before you know it an hour or even two had gone by, my eyes were closing and gone was my reading time! So I’ve been focusing on books and felt more relaxed for doing so.

Bright Lights

I’ve also read that the bright light from any kind of display monitor also simulates day time which is obviously not very conducive to sleep. How that works for ebooks I’m not sure, but one does tend to have the screen a little darker at night.

So I’ve just started reading The Gold Finch by Donna Tartt and at 700+ pages, I’m going to definitely need to focus on my reading time. And as a writer, as I mentioned in my last post on writing tips, that is essential.

Ak.K. Andrew, akandrew.com TheWriters Notebook, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

What is your opinion on visual stimulation before you go to bed in particular? And what about the Dopamine Loop-do you find it effects you in the ways described? If so what’s the answer?

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Many Thanks!

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