What drives people’s addictive use of technology?

Hot off the press – our new Connected Society trend report of 2018 is out! To be customer-centric in the modern digital age, brands should be developing innovations and big ideas that are true to the brand and founded on insights that resonate and inspire with real human beings. In this trend report about the current Connected Society, we explored the drivers behind people’s use of technology, and in turn the new behaviours created from people’s use of technology. What is driving people’s addictive use of connective devices and in turn, how are people defining control over their use of technology? In the next few blog posts, we will be sharing our insights (in bitesize format) to these questions. But you can also download the full trend report here at this link.

As a social species humans have fundamental desire to connect and bond with others, and connective devices especially smartphones, act like a drug that gives us the pleasure for the social interactions that we crave. Looking at the statistics, the majority of time that people spent on their smart phone is for social-related activities. Insights from data collected by Google also reveal that messaging apps, social media apps, and email apps are amongst, if not THE, the most highly used apps for smartphone users [1]. According to a survey by YPulse, for Millennials messaging is a top smartphone activity, with social networking coming in second place [2].

Indeed, brain-imaging research reveals evidence that the reward centres of the brain light up when people are using social media. Sounds a bit narcissistic but people really do like sharing and talking about themselves. There is different research showing that talking or sharing information about themselves on social media fires up people’s reward centers (i.e., nucleus accumbens) in the brain. For example, researchers observed that when people saw their Instagram posts were liked, their nucleus accumbens lit up [3]. Or when they disclose information about themselves [4], like a status update on Facebook, AND get positive feedback it really gets the reward centers up and running [5]. Note that these are the same circuits in the brain that would be activated when you are feeling good – like eating chocolate or winning money, or even taking drugs.

In other words, people get a “high” when they use social media through smartphones because it’s rewarding.  Social connections make us feel good – it gives us a hit. While the social networks formed online may be abstract, large, complex, and super modern, they also reflect universal and fundamental human tendencies that emerged in our prehistoric past when we told stories to one another around campfires in the African savannah. So from here on, brands should make sure that they give people the socially rewarding experiences that they crave. Brands should create content that encourages social interaction. For example, this could be both handy, relevant, and useful information, but also entertaining and humorous content. So think of anything that would make people want to share or would give them a digital “pat on the back” (e.g., Likes, smileys, reviews, etc.)

[1] Google. (2016, September). How People Use Their Devices What Marketers Need to Know (Rep.). Retrieved https://storage.googleapis.com/think/docs/twg-how-people-use-their-devices-2016.pdf

[2] YPulse. (2016, August 1). What millennials & teens are doing on their smartphones every single day. Retrieved from https://www.ypulse.com/post/view/what-millennials-teens-are-doing-on-their-smartphones-every-single-day1

[3] Sherman, L. E., Payton, A. A., Hernandez, L. M., Greenfield, P. M., & Dapretto, M. (2016). The power of the like in adolescence: Effects of peer influence on neural and behavioral responses to social media. Psychological science, 27(7), 1027-1035.

[4] Tamir, D. I., & Mitchell, J. P. (2012). Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(21), 8038-8043.

[5] Meshi, D., Morawetz, C., & Heekeren, H. R. (2013). Nucleus accumbens response to gains in reputation for the self relative to gains for others predicts social media use. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 7, 439.

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