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It turns out information is addictive

Can’t stop checking your phone, even when you’re not expecting any important messages? Blame your striatum: the part of the brain that causes addiction.

A new study has found that information acts on the brain’s dopamine-producing reward system in the same way as money or food.

What the researchers say

“To the brain, information is its own reward, above and beyond whether it’s useful,” said the lead author, a neuroeconomist whose research employs functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), psychological theory, economic modeling and machine learning.

“And just as our brains like empty calories from junk food, they can overvalue information that makes us feel good but may not be useful –what some may call idle curiosity.”

The paper was published this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It demonstrates that the brain converts information into the same common scale as it does for money. It also lays the groundwork for unraveling the neuroscience behind how we consume information – and perhaps even digital addiction.

“We were able to demonstrate for the first time the existence of a common neural code for information and money, which opens the door to a number of exciting questions about how people consume, and sometimes overconsume, information,” the researchers said.

So, what?

It’s interesting to see increased science behind the theory that social media, news sites, Google and the rest create an addiction in the same way that money or food – or indeed shopping, cocaine or alcohol – do.

We are only beginning to take this seriously. The major problem is with people under 25 who can become easily addicted.

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