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The Behavioral Tricks Apps Use To Keep You Hooked

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Posted June 13, 2019

Mobile applications or apps are an ideal way to stay productive or disengage. For anyone that’s looking to increase workflows or team collaborations, apps offer communication solutions. From voice and video to text and chat, apps can keep users engaged.

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Apps can also give users something to do if they have downtime. For those that want to break up the monotony in a busy day, a mobile app game or social media app can help pass the time. The problem is, mobile apps can become very addictive if users aren’t careful.

Effects of Push Notifications, Links and Emails

Experts are increasingly worried about how much of our day is spent looking at screens. A study in 2017 found that users averaged about 3-hours a day on phones or nearly 86-hours a month. A separate study found users spent almost 5-hours daily on phones, with heaviest users touching their phones almost 5,427 times daily versus the average user at 2,617 times a day.

As app functionality improves, a concern is how much time people spend on these devices and how obtrusive they can be. Take an app that vibrates late at night to alert the user about a work file someone emailed them. Or, an app that beeps when a friend replies to a user’s comments on social media but it’s at 3:30 am.

Because apps interrupt with triggers, the brain is now being reprogrammed to listen out for the device even late at night. Instead of fully resting, these slight disruptions can hinder how a person performs – or doesn’t perform during their waking hours.

For addicted app users, the prefrontal cortex can impair their sense of direction, increase bodily stress and reduce their metabolism. The term “mobile addicts” has been used to define mobile app users that can’t put their devices down. And, that’s good news for app developers.

The Addicting Appeal of Apps

Developers of apps are doing all they can to keep their apps popular with users. Hence, they track apps and user interactions. They use features to make apps more addicting such as a vibration when a user has a new message. The vibrations are often popular in mobile games and might alert the user to new bonus money for their game. Or, a pop-up lets them know friends are online.

Bonuses, vibrations and sudden pop-ups can make the user feel important and drawn to the device. Hence, their addiction becomes a success metric and time in between push notifications is delayed gratification.

Apps are a way to reduce boredom. But, the concern is it becomes a fixation that’s hard to put down. As the brain receives constant notifications, these reward cues make users want to stay online. Lock symbols on apps emit a feeling of trust, all caps can be alarming or confrontational while smiley faces can reduce anxiety.

The brain can release a dose of adrenaline after a person is on a social media app. And, when the nucleus accumbens receives information in the brain, it will come to expect more information. It’s the same area in the brain that processes feelings about food, money and sex.  Furthermore because apps integrate with other software, it’s easier for an app user to go from one app to another. Sharing content, receiving responses or getting likes, winks and shares can be pacifying and soothing.

Dating apps are a particularly addictive form of apps. Mixing the promise of finding true love with gamification features like swiping or matching creates a perfect cocktail designed to keep users engaged. It is no surprise that one in six singles say they feel addicted to the process of online dating. Yet, these dating apps are doubly dangerous. Not only are they addictive, they have huge privacy concerns.

Many of the most popular dating apps are owned by a single company, InterActiveCorp (IAC), and when users sign up for one, the app can share information between all apps and may even be allowed to publish information on search engines like google.

How to Disconnect from Apps

To stop addicting behaviors with apps, users should turn off all push notifications. Only check devices for messages when they need to send an outgoing message. If the concern is that the person only contacts people through social media, use their phone numbers to reach them. And, do physical activities together that aren’t online. Then, instead of taking pictures and videos to share online, just enjoy living in the moment and the memories that are shared.

For people looking to reduce their dependency on apps, turn all devices off for blocks of time. Read a book or magazine instead. Users should also turn phones and mobile devices completely off at night and store them away from the bedside. Use a separate alarm clock and not one set up through their smartphone or tablet. Or, the user will be tempted to check messages and notifications. And, the cycle will start all over again.

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