May 14, 2021

The psychological tax of technology | Science

The psychological tax of technology | Science

We live in the decade of fidget spinners, of the coloring books for adults and of the viral whisper videos relaxing We also live in the decade of gig economy, of the Lack of sleep by the screens and the year when 10% of the world's population got hooked on Instagram. They are only examples, but not coincidences: the first are symptoms and the second, possible causes of the epidemic of anxiety associated with the digital revolution.

At this time, emotional disorders derived from stress, such as anxiety and depression, are the most prevalent mental health problems in the world. According to data from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), together affect 14.6% of the Spanish adult population, and large demographic studies They point out that up to a third of the people in the whole world suffer some kind of anxiety throughout their life. The British journalist Johann Hari, author of a book On the recent increase of these disorders, he points out that they are not random changes in brain biochemistry, but reactions to social disconnection. Less financial security, less faith, less vocational work or less time with friends are all losses that have taken their toll.

"On the one hand every time we have more stress and on the other hand we do not know how to handle that stress and the emotions it generates, "explains Antonio Cano, a psychologist at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, who is also president of the Spanish Society for the Study of Anxiety and Stress. Cano points out that it is difficult to put concrete figures on the spread of anxiety, since epidemiological studies are not usually repeated with the same methodology or in the same population, but ensures that existing data confirm an increase for several years. According to him, the rules of society have changed, so that now more demands are generated and greater uncertainty: "You do not have a job for life. Studying a career no longer serves to automatically ascend social class as it was in the 60s, "he says.

Technology increases ambiguity in interpersonal relationships, says psychologist Scott Stanley

In a demanding family, Luminiţa began to identify anxiety symptoms, which she associates with academic expectations, at age 16: nausea, chest pain, tachycardia. The family doctor told him that he was too young to feel pain in his chest. "What happens to you is that you are very nervous," she remembers hearing that day in the clinic. Now, about to turn 20, he is in treatment for the anxiety and depression that he was diagnosed two years ago, when his condition was already incontestable. To last bull, Luminiţa believes that he lived with anxiety from long before going to the doctor. "They do not take themselves seriously mental illnesses ", denounces. "A lot of people can have depression or anxiety without knowing it; I was on alert all day, but I only identified it when it affected my physical condition. "

"Social networks foment neurosis"

Many experts put the magnifying glass on new technologies. The specialist in generational changes Jean Twenge warns that adolescents, specifically, are suffering more acutely the emotional disorders derived from stress, and do not think it is coincidence that this is the first generation that has grown up with a mobile between your hands His hypothesis is built on a simple correlation -the smartphones, worsens the mental health of young people-, but many experts consider it more than convincing. Cano also shares this vision, and provides data and anecdotes that seem to support it: "Anxiety disorders in 50% of cases are already established at the age of 14 years. Sometimes a person comes to the clinic with social phobia or agoraphobia but has 120,000 followers on Instagram, "he says.

One of the main arguments of Twenge, professor of psychology at the University of San Diego (USA), is that young people feel good or bad in relation to their perception of how others are doing. The problem is that social networks usually offer a window to the most attractive moments of the lives of others. "I know that people only share the positive, but sometimes I can not help thinking when I see stories of Instagram why others are doing so well and I'm in the shit, "says Luminiţa. Maybe that's why, A study This month's scientific study showed that limiting time on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat reduced loneliness and depression in 143 undergraduate students at the University of Pennsylvania (USA).

Clinical psychologist and researcher Scott Stanley, who studies romantic relationships from the University of Denver (USA), believes that social networks also exacerbate ambiguity and uncertainty in personal interactions, something that The science it also relates to the deterioration of mental health. "Animals, and I believe that this must be true for humans, they fall apart when they can not distinguish what the stimuli they receive mean and how important they are," he tells Matter the investigator.

Stanley quotes results from the Russian physiologist and psychologist Ivan Pavlov, famous for formulating the law of conditional reflex. In one of his lesser-known experiments, Pavlov trained dogs to distinguish drawings of circles and drawings of ellipses. Experimentally conditioned, the dogs associated the circle with the arrival of food, but not the ellipse. By progressively reducing the size of the major axis of the ellipse, Pavlov managed to induce a state of "experimental neurosis" in the poor dogs who, unable to distinguish whether the drawing showed a circle or not, began to howl, coiled docilely or turned aggressive

"Devices and social networks are optimized to foster experimental neurosis", declares Stanley The young people invest time and effort, he says, in decoding the confusing social stimuli that come to them through the mobile, almost never in the form of calls. Jimena, a 23-year-old student at the University of Castilla-La Mancha who prefers not to share her real name, attributes part of the worsening of her mental health to the use of social networks. Some months, he disconnects his public profiles to avoid the "excess of social information" that he recognizes as a source of anxiety.

I can be overwhelmed by a message from WhatsApp that really did not go with the intention I'm feeling

Jimena highlights a stressful feature of digital communications that Stanley has also put his finger on: chat exchanges. "I can be overwhelmed by a WhatsApp message that really did not go with the intention I'm feeling," says the young woman. The psychologist explains that the voice encodes a lot more emotional information than the written text or even a facial expression (and, therefore, the emojis).

"You do not have to do a study to know that young people are chatting more and talking on the phone less," he says. He also points out that experimental neurosis experiments with dogs worked simply by delaying the reward associated with the stimulus, a phenomenon with disturbing parallels to the anguished waits for WhatsApp -picked by the two. ticks blue that indicate a "read" message -. "How much damage they have done", says Jimena of those ticks, without irony: "At least they could tell you that they had not seen your message".


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