Are mobile phones dangerous? Why take the chance?

Hooked On Your Phone? These Design Tricks Explain Why

Digital addiction is blamed for anxiety, depression, teenage angst, and plenty of family arguments, but maybe we have less control over its effects than we thought. We reveal the psychological tricks technology companies are using to keep us hooked!

Persuasive Design

According to industry insiders, apps are designed to harness the bit of your brain responsible for forming habits and forming addictions. Careful design cues, such as colours and animation create something called The Slot Machine Effect also known as Fear of Missing Out.

Fear Of Missing Out or Slot Machine Effect

The fear of missing out comes when someone senses an opportunity is coming, and that they might get a reward, the combination makes people hang around in a situation to see if it pays off.  So that’s why you pick up your phone 30 seconds after putting it down!

An example of this type of persuasive design in action is the ellipsis we see in text messaging.

These are the three dots that you see when waiting for someone to answer a text, and it is used as a way of keeping you on your phone in anticipation of a reward – the reward is of course a reply to your text!

How does it work? Well, it creates a small amount of stress response – waiting for something to happen (or not happen) because you are unsure of the outcome. At the same time it stimulates dopamine release, which builds stimulation and will keep you coming back for more.

Here are some other examples of how we are kept hooked on our phones:


Another habit forming feature you are likely unaware of. In social media streams and news streams you can keep on scrolling – indefinitely in some cases such as Twitter and Instagram – and when you are feeling jaded and hanging for a reward of some sort you pull or tap to refresh, et voila, you are rewarded with a whole new stream to scroll through.


Now this you are probably aware of. Social validation online, wanting to be liked in general, or at least having people agree with your thoughts, options, or skill at sharing other people’s content is at the heart of persuasive design. Seeing a thumbs-up, a heart, an upvote… whatever… is arguably the ultimate reward, and will definitely keep you coming back to that particular platform for more.

Red notification buttons on your home screen

You’ve been got again. Red means stop, pay attention, be careful, do something about this now. This releases cortisol (a well documented stress hormone) and creates an emotional response to do something to resolve the situation – ergo, take action.

Take note – the persuasive tech is only going to get better!

Artificial Intelligence and AI is evolving at what seems like an exponential rate, and in some cases it is being used to identify when we are ready for another persuasive nudge and reward. While this may seem terrifying in terms of social media and online gaming  – where there are currently no regulations about how this technology is used – it can actually be put to very good use.

A great example is a company called Dopamine Labs. They are using an algorithm that sends push notifications to patients to get them moving post-surgery. They claim that their algorithm gets patients walking 60% more after surgery.

Need help with digital addiction? We have a great article about how to change your mobile phone habits, and we also showcased a handy app that gently helps you to reduce the number of times you unlock your phonescreen and cut down on the amount of time onscreen too.

Information for this article was taken from a BBC video.

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